Seminar: “Bamboo Swirling in the Wind”: Thailand’s Foreign Policy in the Regional Power Competition



Thailand is an interesting case of a medium-sized state attempting to maintain a balancing strategy in its relations with great powers in the region. The historical legacy of Thailand’s interaction with external powers has shaped a diplomatic culture that values flexibility and pragmatism. Dubbed “bamboo bending with the wind”, this strategy suggests policies that are solidly rooted but flexible enough to bend with the wind in order to survive. However, recent developments in the regional power competition, especially between the US and China, as well as Thai domestic politics have cast doubt over its ability to maintain this balancing strategy. The military’s intervention in Thai politics over the past decade has added to this doubt. As with other mainland Southeast Asian states, except Vietnam, Thailand seems to have been gradually lured into Beijing’s orbit.
This seminar will look at the factors that are challenging Thailand’s flexible diplomacy. Although Thailand manages to maintain close ties with both Washington and Beijing, its balancing act is more an ad hoc than a well-crafted strategy. Therefore, Thailand’s diplomacy at this stage is better described as “swirling in the wind”. This metaphor suggests policies that are sensitive to surrounding pressures and tend to change abruptly. The seminar will also offer empirical cases from the Thaksin administration onwards to demonstrate the impact that domestic politics and China have had on Thailand’s relations with the US.



Pongphisoot (Paul) Busbarat is currently a Dorothy Postdoctoral Scholar in Southeast Asian Studies at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. His current research is on images/identities in Thailand’s relations with China and the US. Paul’s research interests include ideational approaches to international relations, regionalism in Southeast Asia, and Thai politics and foreign affairs.

Prior to Columbia, Paul was a research affiliate at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC), University of Sydney. He was also a researcher at the Australian National University working on the role of norm entrepreneurs in anti-nuclear politics. Paul holds a PhD in Political Science & International Relations from the ANU, and postgraduate degrees in development studies and international affairs from Cambridge University and Columbia University. Previously, Paul worked as a policy analyst at Thailand’s Office of the National Security Council.

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 4 March 2016.


Mar 07 2016


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2