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Blood Is Thicker Than Water: A History of the Diplomatic Discourse "China and Thailand Are Brothers".

DURING A PUBLIC SPEECH IN GUANGZHOU ON FEBRUARY 17, 1924, Sun Yat-sen, the Nationalist Party premier, mentioned a conversation with a Siamese (Thai) diplomat. He recalled, "More than a decade ago, a Siamese Minister of Foreign Affairs and I were talking about the East Asian issue. The Minister said: 'If China can successfully undergo a revolution, it will be a rich and strong nation. Our Siam is willing to return to China and become its province'" (quoted in Yao 2014, 52). Although this may not have been completely accurate, the understanding of traditional Sino-Thai relations was implicit in this speech to a Chinese audience. During the process of China's opening over the past four decades, the historical bilateral relationship between Thailand and China has been widely recognized and epitomized in the expression "China and Thailand are brothers." (1)

In this article we examine how the phrase became the diplomatic discourse that both Thailand and China commonly use to articulate their friendly relations historically and today. Recent scholarship has noted the close Sino-Thai relationship and the significance of the phrase in explaining that relationship. For instance, Michael Chambers (2005) argues that the current Sino-Thai friendship can be traced back to the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, a period when Thailand restored its relationship with China. Although Chambers examines factors that have encouraged both countries' friendship (such as Sino-Thai traditional relations, the role of the Chinese, and military cooperation), he does not clearly explain what the "China and Thailand are brothers" discourse means and how it has developed into a diplomatic policy. Pongphisoot Busbarat (2016) explains how the image of a family relationship in Sino-Thai relations was constructed and used in the development of bilateral ties. Yet, his argument puts more emphasis on the Thai perspective and hardly touches upon the Chinese position, that is, China's perception of brotherhood. Kevin Hewison (2017) suggests that the renewal of the closer Sino-Thai relationship is the result of Thailand's domestic problems. In other words, internal political needs necessitated Thailand's turn toward China. Their bilateral cooperation can be seen in the areas of trade, military, and culture. Yet Hewison's insightful article focuses on Thailand after the 2014 coup and leaves out the discourse of brotherhood from his analysis.

In this sense, scholarly works on the development of the Sino-Thai friendship largely focus on material and practical interests, such as security and economic dynamics. It can be said that earlier scholarship largely adopted a strictly empirical, facts-based approach with limited archival research and, where engaging the discourse question, has done little to engage the historical contexts in which the relationship developed. In addition, it has failed to incorporate both Thai and Chinese sources. This is unfortunate, since it is important to study the "China and Thailand are brothers" discourse to consider both countries' historical perspectives in order to understand when, where, why, and how the discourse has been used and how its meaning was generated.

In this article we address the limitations of existing scholarship by using archival documents as well as other primary sources, such as eyewitness accounts, speeches, and interviews, to provide contextual understanding of the discourse in Sino-Thai relations. We examine the "China and Thailand are brothers" discourse by analyzing the historical context in which this diplomatic discourse was constructed, and then provide insights on how Thai and Chinese political elites transformed foreign policy thereafter.

This article is divided into four sections. In the first section we trace back to a particular stage in Thai history when the discourse played a crucial role in encouraging overseas Chinese to integrate into Thai society in the early twentieth century. In the second section we explain changes in the discourse during the period from Thailand's national integration to the normalization of Sino-Thai relations during the Cold War. In the third section we demonstrate how the discourse has reinforced a certain perception of Sino-Thai relations since their diplomatic normalization. In the final section we suggest a rethinking of the diplomatic discourse in terms of its Chinese characteristics in order to better understand China's relationship with foreign countries in general and with Thailand in particular. In accordance with the definition provided by Heracleous (2006), the term discourse employed in this article refers to collections of texts, whether oral or written, such as the broadcast speeches of political leaders, newspaper articles, interviews, reports, and historical events.

Formulating the Discourse: Family and National Integration in Early Twentieth-Century Thailand

When the large-scale migration of Chinese to Thailand began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Siam, as it was then known, was transforming into a modern nation-state. Chinese immigrants became the focus of political controversy over their loyalty to the state. In order to strengthen state power, the Thai government determined that it would push forward the complete assimilation of overseas Chinese into Thai society. In addition to the state's pro-assimilationist policies, the depiction of Chinese as members of Thailand's family was aimed at encouraging the Chinese toward national integration.

Indeed, China and Thailand have a long history of close economic and cultural ties. Both Chinese and Thai officials usually refer to hundreds or even thousands of years of friendship, despite a formal contemporary diplomatic relationship that began only in 1975. There is evidence that many of the Chinese who reside in Thailand have roots that can be traced back to the period prior to the Tang dynasty (which began in 618). In the early fifteenth century, the relationship between the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya and the Ming dynasty of China became even closer, especially during the era of maritime expeditions carried out by Zheng He. In the records of expeditions with Zheng He, Thailand's friendliness toward China is captured as follows: "When [a Siamese woman] comes across our Chinese man, she seems to like him very much, then welcomes him with wine, showing respect to him, happily singing and letting him stay overnight" (quoted in Xie 1949, 275).

This account, despite now seeming somewhat embellished, suggests that the Chinese had other reasons than trade for visiting Thailand (Skinner 1957, 3). In fact, such idyllic stories told by seamen after returning to China strongly encouraged trade with and migration to Southeast Asia. Since the mid-nineteenth century, China's defeat in the Opium Wars brought the signing of unequal treaties that gave rise to Western control of Chinese ports as well as the military supremacy of the imperial powers. This provided the "legal framework" for the recruitment of Chinese laborers and the shipping of them overseas. As Kuhn points out, the "opening of China" by the Western powers "not only produced the mechanisms for recruiting labor, but also uprooted that labor socially and economically" (2008, 111). From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, there were massive waves of Chinese migration to Bangkok, the new Thai capital. It is estimated that millions of Chinese migrants settled in Thailand, (2) some of whom married local women, which enabled their Thailand-born children to be more easily assimilated into local society (Dongnanya huaqiao 2003, 490-497). This history of intermarriage and assimilation is believed to be one of the sources for the expression "China and Thailand are brothers."

However, there were also many Thailand-born Chinese who were deemed by the state to be of undefined origin. In the early twentieth century, all ethnic Chinese born in Thailand were regarded as Thai according to the Thai Nationality Act of 1913 (unless they were registered by their parents with the legations and embassies of those nations with whom Thailand had treaty relations, which China did not) (Siam Gazette 1913). At the same time, however, the Qing government, and later the Republic of China, also claimed these overseas Chinese in Thailand as citizens. Beset by this pull on their political loyalties, the overseas Chinese were forced to identify themselves as either Thai or Chinese.

To accelerate the identification of Chinese as Thai, King Rama VI extensively used his writings as a tool for national policies that would make the Chinese the "Other." In "Jews of the Orient" written in 1914, an article full of chauvinistic nationalism, he borrowed the language of European anti-Semitism to condemn the overseas Chinese, who, in his opinion, did not readily assimilate into local society and thus remained outsiders (1985). Many of his writings underlined concerns about the growing influence of the Chinese in Thailand. The Thai king was in fact skeptical of Chinese migrants who identified themselves as Chinese and were loyal to China, especially those who largely dominated Thailand's economy. Some scholars have argued that he placed emphasis on the loyalty of the Chinese rather than their ethnicity (Tejapira 1997). Yet this kind of "Othering" created tension between Chinese communities and the Thai government. (3)

Following the reign of Rama VI (1910-1925), his brother Rama VII (1925-1935) attempted to resolve such tension and establish friendly relations with the Chinese communities. To include the overseas Chinese into Thai society, he particularly made a linguistic shift in his descriptions of them; instead of Chinese being the Other, they became relatives of the Thai people. In his visit to the historic Peiying Chinese School, he gave a thoughtful speech illuminating the "Thailand and China are brothers" discourse: "Undoubtedly, the Thais and the Chinese were truly regarded relatives [phi nong].... The blood bond of Chinese people and Thai people was so thick as to be indispensable. Many present or former high-ranking officials were ethnic Chinese.... I am also one of those who have Chinese blood" (Peiying xuexiao 1970).

The objective of his speech was apparently to foster a love for Thailand--in addition to China--among the Chinese immigrants. Indeed, the king's visit to Peiying signaled the significance of Chinese schools as being at the forefront of cultivating young Chinese living in Thailand. He reminded Chinese schools of their responsibility to build an inclusive society:
   In your school, you must teach your students to love China--the
   motherland. This is normal and should be done. However, besides
   teaching [them] to love China, I also hope that you will teach [the
   students] to love Thailand as well.... If you make concerted effort
   ... the Thais and the Chinese will live intimately, which can bring
   benefits to both parties and return happiness to Thailand and
   China--brotherhood nations. (Peiying xuexiao 1970)

On many other occasions, Rama VII also described the relationship between the Thais and the Chinese as that of relatives. He may have realized that persuasion was also a means to integrate the Chinese into society, especially if it was applied in the educational system, and thus argued that the Thai government should win the hearts and minds of the Chinese rather than alienating them and describing them as the Other. This narrative of brotherhood, one that sought to include overseas Chinese for national integration, extended to the next government.

A Changing Discourse: Shifting Toward Sino-Thai Normalization

After the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, communist influences intensified Thailand's fear of the Chinese as a national threat. Hence, the Thai government, as an ally of the United States, pursued anticommunist policies. Some Thai political elites, however, realized the importance of China to Thailand's national security. In the 1950s, several groups of Thai delegates visited China, articulating the brotherhood discourse in order to address Thailand's wish to keep the Sino-Thai friendship alive. After Sino-US rapprochement in the 1970s, the Thai government shifted its policy and encouraged the discourse to shape its changing foreign policy toward China. In this section of the article, therefore, we will demonstrate how the discourse was transformed into policy for the normalization of Sino-Thai relations.

The Discourse in the Development of Sino-Thai Relations

Since the PRC had a policy of exporting revolution overseas to support communist movements, especially during the post-World War II decolonization period, the Thai government became an ally of the United States to fight against the expansion of communism in the region. Phibun, the Thai prime minister (1948-1957), initiated an anti-Chinese campaign, which was given added impetus by the prominence of Chinese members in the minuscule Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) and by the growing depiction of the overseas Chinese as a possible fifth column of subversion on behalf of China (Wyatt 1984, 267).

Nevertheless, the PRC developed its foreign policy of a "peaceful united front" (heping tongyi zhanxian) in the mid-1950s. Niu Jun (2013) noted that this new policy was carried out to create a security buffer zone around China, and it transformed PRC diplomacy to ensure China's smooth relations with neighboring countries. The five principles of peaceful coexistence with India in 1954 demonstrate the achievement of the PRC's new diplomacy in this period. Thus, China also proposed the concept to the 1955 Asian-African Conference, or Bandung Conference, to which the Thai government sent delegates as observers in an effort to discover China's attitude toward Thailand (NA SB. 5.1.12/1).

During the Bandung Conference, Chinese premier and foreign minister Zhou Enlai reiterated the historic proposal of the five principles of peaceful coexistence and pursued negotiations with Indonesia to settle the dual nationality problem of overseas Chinese. In a private dinner with Zhou, Thai foreign minister and delegate to the conference Prince Wan outlined the Thai government's concern about China and the overseas Chinese in Thailand. Zhou reassured him that China had no intention to intervene in, or infiltrate, Thailand (ZEXJ 1997). Their Bandung meeting was a milestone in the development of Cold War Sino-Thai relations. After the conference, Thai premier Phibun and his adviser Sang Phatthanothai (1981) proposed that Thailand should not completely follow the United States in adopting policies detrimental to the Sino-Thai friendship because China was a neighboring country that was crucial to national and regional security. Therefore, unknown to the United States, Phibun decided to maintain ties with China and sent a top-secret diplomatic mission to Beijing in 1955.

In Beijing, Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai, and other Chinese leaders met with the Thai mission. When talking about the improvement of relations between China and Thailand, Mao proposed that Thailand first develop trade and cultural exchanges with China. China would cooperate with Thailand in terms of technology (MZN 2013, 500-501). Ari Phirom (2002, 140), a Thai representative, later recalled the meeting, reflecting that "Chairman Mao talked to us in the way a senior [phu awuso] did, because all of us sitting there were younger than him." He further emphasized that "Chairman Mao expressed his kindness [kwam metta prani] to us as if we were his own children [luk Ian]" (Phirom 2002, 140). Hence, the Thai mission left the meeting feeling that Sino-Thai relations were on a course for improvement.

Afterward, the Phibun government indicated that it had dropped its hostile attitude and policies toward Chinese affairs. Communication with China became more relaxed, and trade between Thailand and China resumed (NA PN 0301.8.1/4). People-to-people diplomacy between Thailand and China developed vigorously, with delegations from Thailand including the House of Parliament, Buddhist monks, labor unions, basketball teams, and Thai artists (NA (3)S.R. 020.7/190). It is worth noting that during a 1957 group visit to Beijing by Thai members of the performing arts that was headed by Suwat Dilokdilok, both countries, by using the discourse "China and Thailand are brothers," signaled their determination to establish a relationship. In the opening performance of the Thai dancers and singers in Beijing, Chu Tunan, head of the Bureau for External Cultural Relations, gave a warm welcome, stating that "China and Thailand are not only neighbors but also close relatives. Historically speaking, our ancestors have been through many difficulties to keep the relationship warm and amicable" (NA K/P7/2500/B 12.3). Suwat also replied with thanks in the same manner, noting that, "in Thailand, it is always said that the Chinese and the Thais are relatives [phi nong]. We believe this an eternal truth" (NA K/P7/2500/B 12.3).

In another performance attended by Zhou Enlai and Shen Yanbing, the former minister of foreign affairs, Suwat reiterated the strong brotherly relationship of China and Thailand, declaring that "the bond between the Thais and the Chinese is tighter than that of any other nations in the world. History has proven that people of these two countries are blood-bonded. Thai people have always valued the friendship of Chinese people" (NA K/P7/2500/B 12.3). At the end of the performance, Chinese audience members as well as the Chinese and Thai performers shouted, "Long live the China-Thailand friendship." Then both sang together "Brotherhood of China and Thailand," a song composed by Suwat Woradilok to express the deep feelings the states held for each other.

The developing Sino-Thai friendship gradually motivated more Thais to travel to China. However, in 1957, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat staged a coup d'etat, which was backed by the United States in an effort to contain the communist bloc, and overthrew the Phibun government (Chaiching 2009). He established a military absolutist regime in 1958, which set back the process of improving Sino-Thai relations for decades. Even so, the Thai missions that relied on the brotherhood discourse had spread the seeds of friendship to China, thereby laying the groundwork for the future normalization of relations between the two countries.

Brotherhood Discourse in the Normalization of Sino-Thai Relations

After military regimes took power in Thailand, starting in 1957, Sino-Thai relations deteriorated throughout the 1960s. The years of Sarit's dictatorship, as well as those of his associates and successors, Thanom and Praphat, can be called the "American Era" in modern Thai history (Anderson and Mendiones 1985, 19). There is ample evidence that Thailand, under the absolutist military regimes, developed more intimate relationships with the United States than it did under the Phibun government. For instance, a number of other anticommunist policies were intensified, such as the declaration of a trade ban with China in 1959. The military government, backed by the United States, sent secret forces (mercenaries) to support the royal Lao government to fight against the communist Pathet Lao and its communist bloc during the Laotian crisis (FRUS 1961-1963).

In 1962, Thanat Khoman, the Thai foreign minister, and US secretary of state Dean Rusk signed a bilateral communique known as the Thanat-Rusk communique stating that the United States would come to Thailand's aid if it faced invasion by neighboring countries. In the same year, the Chinese government established the Voice of the People of Thailand radio station in southern China to be a mouthpiece of the CPT in attacking the Thai government's willingness to allow the United States to intervene in the country (FRUS 1964-1968). The increasing role of the United States in Indochina worsened Sino-Thai relations, especially with the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Moreover, the Thai military government actively supported the US troops stationed in Thailand for activity in Vietnam. In response to this military alliance, China became more supportive of the communist movements in the region, including the CPT. Therefore, the CPT began to use armed forces, beginning with the first outbreak of gunfire on August 7, 1965. Although it remains unclear how much weaponry and assistance China gave the CPT, Chinese involvement was so terrifying to Thai leaders that the conservative military regime believed communism was definitely a threat to Thailand's security (FRUS 1964-1968).

However, when international relations moved into a new phase in the 1970s, US foreign policy dramatically shifted. In 1969 President Richard Nixon declared the Vietnamization Policy, which called for the training, equipping, and deployment of South Vietnamese troops and a gradual withdrawal of US fighters. The United States ultimately abandoned Vietnam to its own fate. This policy had a tremendous impact on Thailand's attitude toward communist powers such as China. The Thai government had long committed to fight against the CPT, which had been created in part with Chinese support for the insurgency in the Thai state. (4) Given that Thailand and China shared the same concerns about Vietnam's affairs, Thailand had to adapt its foreign policy toward that of China. Forced by domestic and international constraints, the Thai government reconsidered its position and resumed relations with China in the 1970s (FRUS 1969-1976).

After a decades-long vacuum in a formal diplomatic relationship framework, the Thai government took a step forward to sound out China's views. As Chambers (2005, 607) noted, although Thailand was not ready to develop formal diplomatic relations with the PRC because of some lingering suspicions over the CPT, it was prepared to develop sports and cultural exchanges as well as commercial relations with China. In 1972, Prasit Karnchanawat, deputy director of economic, financial, and industrial affairs, led the Thai table tennis team to Beijing. Thanks to this "ping-pong diplomacy," Prasit had the chance to meet with Liao Chengzhi, a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee. Prasit conveyed Thailand's commitment to resuming its relationship with China. While discussing problems in Sino-Thai relations, Prasit and Liao agreed that China and Thailand had long been closely related by blood, history, culture, and tradition, which had enabled the Chinese and Thai brotherhood. The next day, Prasit also held talks with Han Nianlong, deputy minister of foreign affairs. This cordial meeting, which drew upon the discourse established in the 1950s, enabled them to fully understand the opportunities and challenges in the course of establishing a diplomatic relationship between Thailand and China (NA PN 0301.11.15.3/60).

Following Prasit's breakthrough visit, Thailand made an internal adjustment of its foreign policy. In 1974, Prasit, now deputy minister of foreign affairs, led another mission of Thai members of Parliament to Beijing--the largest official visit of Thai officials before the normalization of Sino-Thai relations. He informed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Han that Thailand was ready to resume full diplomatic relations with China. Han responded that "historically, Thailand always has cordial ties with China.... The Chinese and the Thai are blood-bonded relatives. The visit led by his Excellency is a propitious start" (Patthanothai 2011, 238-239). On the last day in Beijing, the Thai mission called on Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping to discuss resuming Sino-Thai relations. During the course of the discussion, Deng referred to the familial ties between China and Thailand, stating, "Thailand and China have long been relatives since ancient times. Thus, there is no reason to break this traditional long friendship" (Patthanothai 2011, 240).

In 1975 Thai prime minister MR Kukrit Pramoj led a delegation to China for the purpose of normalizing bilateral relations. He met with prominent Chinese leaders including Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai (MZN 2013, 594). For MR Kukrit, Mao also projected a benign image (Phirom 2002), the same impression that had been made on the Thai secret mission to visit Beijing twenty years earlier.

MR Kukrit held talks with Premier Zhou a day before signing the resulting joint statement. Zhou noted that "China and Thailand have several centuries of contacts and close ties.... No matter how advanced and powerful China will be in the future, we will adhere to the principle of non-hegemony" (ZEN 1997, 563-564). After the signing of the joint statement to reestablish Sino-Thai relations, Zhou sent a letter to Prince Wan, declaring, "Now our two countries have established diplomatic relations.... After twenty years of separation, I am pleased to learn that your Highness is healthy as always" (ZEN 1997, 564). This joint statement became the last declaration of the PRC's establishment of a diplomatic relationship with a foreign country that Premier Zhou signed before his death. Thereafter, Zhou Enlai was hailed in Thailand as a respected figure who had cultivated friendship between China and Thailand. (5)

During the process of Sino-Thai normalization, the rhetoric of "China and Thailand are brothers" became the diplomatic discourse widely used to justify the shift in foreign policy to the public. When it came to policy adjustment, policymakers needed to find valid and compelling evidence to support the policy change so as to convince the citizens of their countries. In this case, when the Thai state ended hostility and moved toward peace, and thus needed to explain the transformation of Thailand's foreign policy toward China to the public, it reasonably turned to the brotherhood discourse as a replacement for the legacy of hostility caused by Chinese involvement during the turbulent years of internal war against the CPT. In the circumstances of ideological and political conflicts between China and Thailand, the use of this discourse, therefore, was deemed the most appropriate tool that both countries had in common, connected as they are by blood, shared history, and culture.

In this sense, Anand Panyarachun, a Thai delegate to the Sino-Thai normalization mission of 1975, indicated that both sides rejected dual nationality but accepted the five principles of peaceful coexistence, which had initiated the Bandung Declaration. He said,

Theoretically speaking, these principles were endorsed by Prince Wan since the Bandung Conference. Yet it is unbelievable to put in practice in the terms of respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, or non-interference in each other's internal affairs. (6) ... Another important issue is that China did not accept the dual nationality. This is, psychologically speaking, crucial to Thailand, because Thailand was accused of being leftist at that time, so how can we be certain that the Chinese living in Thailand would be loyal to Thailand[?] ... Both [China and Thailand] needed to take these matters to heart, and probed whether there is any sincerity. Later, it appeared that sincerity happened. (Panyarachun 2000, 16)

In fact, China's policies toward the overseas Chinese changed in the late 1950s; they were forced to choose only one nationality, either China or their host country. At the height of the Cold War, under the repressive political environment, the Chinese in Thailand were inevitably forced to choose to be either Thai or Chinese. At the same time, the Thai government's many policies were aimed at encouraging the Chinese in Thailand to take Thai citizenship (Sin Sian Yit Pao 1975). This brought about a shift for the Chinese in their perception of living in Thailand. Local citizens of Chinese descent would no longer be called overseas Chinese, or Huaqiao, as they were no longer sojourners (Suryadinata 1989). Rather, they became settlers who had rooted themselves in Thai society. After the Thai and Chinese rapprochement in 1975, many ethnic Chinese acquired Thai citizenship and should, therefore, have politically been called Thai.

The Implications of the Brotherhood Discourse for Contemporary Sino-Thai Relations

Though Sino-Thai relations have been normalized, the brotherhood discourse continues to run deep; it has frequently been mentioned in official documents, in the speeches of both countries' leaders, and by the public. In this section we will provide examples of how Chinese and Thai leaders, and governmental agencies as well as nongovernmental organizations, have reinforced the reality of the discourse. We will further examine the implications of this discourse for Sino-Thai relations in the new era.

The Reinforcement of the Brotherhood Discourse Since China-Thailand Normalization

In 1979, just a few years after normalization, China and Thailand had to grapple with the Cambodian crisis. Both countries cooperated to manage Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, which was a direct threat to Thailand's national security. China wanted Thailand to be an ally against Vietnam. Meanwhile, Thailand would have China's back in defense against Vietnam as well as in negotiations with the CPT. This emerging dynamic laid a solid foundation for Thailand's perception of China as one of its most trusted friends (Chinwanno 1995, 13-14).

The Cambodian crisis was a substantive event in the post-normalization era. It became a key point of reference in the positive evolution of Chinese-Thai relations after normalization. Thailand had a clear understanding that "the PRC would repeat the 'lesson' it taught Hanoi by its punitive war if it attacked Thailand" (quoted in Chambers 2005, 615). Such mutual aid at crucial times, as Eznack (2011) argues, can promote friendly bilateral relations, and the building of a common emotional history together can lead to the establishment of shared meaning and trust between the countries (Oatley and Jenkins 1996, 181). The Cambodian crisis enriched and validated the discourse in the eyes of Thailand.

Currently, the brotherhood discourse is widely employed on many occasions by different actors. Examples of the use of the discourse can be broken into three levels: (1) Among Chinese and Thai leaders--at many state events, Chinese and Thai leaders have chosen the discourse to highlight time-tested friendship and strengthen ties for economic cooperation. (2) Between Chinese and Thai governmental agencies--in the past decades, there have been a large number of exchanges between Thai and Chinese officials or agencies to gain knowledge and improve mutual understanding. As such, the discourse regarding friendship and kinship is used to deepen ties. (3) By the public--the Thai public, especially Thailand's business associations and Chinese associations that hope to gain from the rise of China, also engages the brotherhood discourse. For example, in 2017 the president of the Thai-Chinese Chamber of Commerce gave an interview to Xinhua News, saying, "The Belt and Road initiative will bring enormous opportunities for the development of Thailand. With the constant implementation of this initiative, the brotherhood relationship between China and Thailand will become better and better, or closer and closer" (Chinanews 2017a).

During the meeting with Chinese ambassador Lu Jian in 2017, moreover, delegations from Chinese associations said they were working to promote Sino-Thai cooperation as well as Chinese culture in various aspects. Moreover, they expressed willingness "to mobilize more members to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, as China and Thailand are brothers" (Chinanews 2017b).

The brotherhood discourse frames norms and principles that guide behavior within the relationship (Eznack 2011, 239). In the case of Sino-Thai relations, the discourse implies that Thailand and China share some common principles. As such, the five principles of peaceful coexistence have for decades been the basic norm guiding China's policy with its neighbors. They have wholeheartedly been upheld by Thailand, especially after the May 2014 coup d'etat.

Implications of the Brotherhood Discourse for Current Sino-Thai Relations

Since the coup in 2014, Thailand has been ruled by a military junta, drawing widespread international criticism. Forging a closer relationship with China, therefore, became an answer to Thailand's diplomatic isolation. The Chinese government did not comment on the coup, while the attitude of the West was the opposite. Sino-Thai diplomatic and security ties were strongly confirmed by the statement in the ASEAN forum held in August 2015 by General Thanasak Patimaapakorn, who was then Thai foreign minister. In the middle of the meeting he declared that this was the best moment for the relationship between Thailand and China. He also hinted at closer and deeper relations between China and Thailand: "We do not talk in diplomatic ways, but it's like intimate talk with a family member or a friend" (Matichon Weekly 2016).

Moreover, under Thanasak, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has undertaken some unusual actions. For instance, in 2015 Thailand forcibly returned nearly 100 Uighur migrants to China. This action provoked harsh criticism of Thailand from the international community with respect to human rights (Reuters July 9, 2015). Prapat Thepchatree (2018), a Thai diplomat turned professor, notes that normally the main principle of Thai foreign affairs--"bending with the wind"--is meant to strike a balance between Thailand and the superpowers, but the shifting direction of Thailand's foreign policy to lean toward China in order to obtain Beijing's recognition of its legitimacy in the first year after the coup went "beyond the traditional principle." It can be assumed that General Thanasak's moves are based on his instincts that are formed by the idea of military brotherhood, a mutual trust that is deeply rooted in military services and experiences.

In the twenty-first century, China has become a major partner of Thailand. Thai prime minister General Prayut has highlighted his view that China has confidence in the political situation in Thailand and emphasized Thailand's strong commitment to promoting good relations with China (Prachachat 2015). It can be argued that the brotherhood displays an aspect of what Felix Berenskoetter (2012) called a shared past and a shared future that involves a common vision of shared prosperity.

Since Thailand has been isolated by the international community, as some Western governments have imposed tough sanctions against the military regime, the Thai junta government has thus found it necessary to move close to China when implementing its foreign policy (Chachavalpongpun 2015). This limitation has placed Thailand at a competitive disadvantage in its negotiations with China. Furthermore, the Thai junta government's lack of legitimacy has led some Thai people who support democracy to depreciate closer relations with China. They hold the view that China supports the authoritarian government for its own agenda rather than for the good of local people.7 However, the junta government still opts for promoting the Sino-Thai brotherhood discourse, as this allows it to claim that China understands the situation in Thailand and will offer no further criticism. Although it is difficult to know whether Chinese and Thai leaders sincerely believe in the discourse, it can be asserted that this brotherhood discourse will be necessary for the Thai military regime to show the world that it is not alone.

Rethinking Diplomatic Discourse with Chinese Characteristics

While enjoying a bond of brotherhood, it should be noted that Thailand is not the only country for which China has used this rhetoric to describe its relationship. In fact, China has demonstrated the crucial functions of this rhetoric in describing its bilateral relationships and in shaping the perception of its diplomatic practices. This reflects the role of China's diplomatic discourse and suggests that a focus on China's foreign policy toward the Southeast Asian countries can be informed by the "China and Thailand are brothers" discourse, as discussed below.

Diplomatic Discourse with Chinese Characteristics: Specific Expression of Bilateral Relations

Perhaps what irritates China's current officials most is the idea of the so-called China threat. During the Cold War, China struggled to gain recognition from the world when its communist ideology was considered a threat. Since the end of the Cold War, which was characterized by drastic political shifts, China has undergone radical economic reforms and an opening up process (gaige kaifang), leading to the country's unprecedented transformation. However, China's increasing prominence on the world stage has attracted scrutiny and skepticism. There is a general fear that China intends to be a new hegemon--a threat to the norms and values that were established by its Western counterparts after World War II. Thus, Chinese leaders have insisted on the five principles of peaceful coexistence (FMPRC 2000) and continue to project the nation's benign image in order to raise its international profile, for example, by exerting influence through soft-power policies.

There is evidence that a country's foreign policy is influenced by its traditional culture, which has a direct impact on its diplomatic means, ways, and styles (You 2012). As part of its soft-power policy, much of China's diplomatic discourse, which draws upon Chinese cultural traditions as well as philosophy and literature, is focused on constructive ends. Moreover, it provides insights into the conceptualization of China's bilateral relations. For example, the phrase "deeper than the deepest sea, higher than the Himalayas, and sweeter than honey" (bi hai shen, bi shan gao, bi mi tian) is generally used to highlight the extent of the closeness and intimacy of China-Pakistan relations, despite racial, cultural, and ideological differences. As the Pakistani prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani noted, "We call China a true friend and a time-tested and all-weather friend" (People's Daily Online 2011). Other examples can be found, such as the phrases "separated only by a strip of water" (yi yi dai shui), indicating that Sino-Japanese relations remain complicated (China Daily 2008), and "connected by mountains and rivers" (shan shui xiang lian) and "as close as lips and teeth" (chun chi xiang yi), expressing the traditional relationship between China and North Korea (FMPRC 2016; People's Daily Online 2018), while the improvement in China-South Korea relations has been upgraded to a "strategic partnership" (zhanlue hezuo huoban) (FMPRC 2013).

It can be argued that this rhetorical discourse is the crucial means by which China explains its foreign policy to the world. In fact, the rhetoric of describing relationships is how one can distinguish a nation's place in China's foreign policy discourse; the choice of words reflects a certain kind of bilateral relationship. Therefore, only through comprehension of the discourses Chinese leaders articulate in their speeches can the value of these statements be truly understood. (8)

The "China and Thailand Are Brothers"

Discourse as a Case Study

As the old proverb says, "distant relatives are not as good as neighbors." Inevitably, China places neighboring countries as the top priority in its foreign policy: its aim is to build friendships and partnerships with them (yu lin wei shan, yi lin wei ban) in order to ensure peace, stability, and development in the region (CPC NEWS 2015). In doing so, the Chinese government has forged close ties with Southeast Asian nations. A metaphoric discourse of family and kinship is used to describe some relationships between China and Southeast Asian countries.

For instance, China-Myanmar relations can be described as pauk-phaw (kinsfolk) friendship. "Over the past 66 years, ... China-Myanmar relations have as always maintained steady development, attributed to the abiding by the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and Pauk-Phaw friendship between the two peoples" (Xinhuanet 2016a).

China and Cambodia are said to be devoted friends (gan dan xiang zhao) or neighbors who share a bond of brotherhood (qing tong shou zu): "The two countries have supported each other in improving the livelihoods of their respective people" (Xinhuanet 2016b).

China-Thailand relations, of course, have been widely discussed in this article. Chinese premier Li Keqiang stated that "people in both countries know about 'Jeen Thai Phee Nong Gan' ['China and Thailand are brothers' in colloquial Thai]. This belief, which has taken deep roots in the hearts of our people, is a true reflection of the profound friendship between our two countries" (FMPRC 2013).

In the past decade, President Xi Jinping has indicated his commitment to amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness (qin, cheng, hui, rong) in order to set the concept of China's diplomacy toward Southeast Asian countries. He uses another four terms--sincerity, real results, friendship, and good faith (zhen, shi, qin, cheng)--to denote the approach toward Africa (Chinanews 2013). Sino-Southeast Asian relations begin with qin, which refers to intimateness or kinship, then cheng, hui, and finally rong as the highest level of their relationship. The nuances of word order should be noticed: qin, the first level of Sino-Southeast Asian relations, becomes the third level for Sino-African relations, while cheng, the second level of the former, becomes the highest level for the latter.

The discrepancy between the relations of Sino-Southeast Asian and those of Sino-African relations can be explained by China's longer shared history with its neighbors. China has higher expectations when conducting its neighborhood diplomacy, as well as a deeper tradition on which to draw. As President Xi stated, "China shares close cultural bonds with all countries in Southeast Asia. We have a recorded history of interactions for more than 2,000 years" (Xinhuanet 2015). The Chinese concept of family or kinship reflects the essence of Confucianism. Familial ties and blood connections are significant and highly esteemed by Chinese people; as a Chinese proverb says, "a peaceful family will prosper" (jia he wan shi xing) (Zhang 2013). Although it is possible to wonder whether China's framing of its relations with Southeast Asian countries in Confucian terms hearkens to hierarchical relations rather than the egalitarian principles of the five principles of peaceful coexistence, peaceful neighboring states are considered vital for China's prosperity and stability. To attain this goal, China must also bear in mind that its actions will prove the truth of its words. As Confucius says, "all within the four seas will be his brothers" (si hai zhi nei jie xiong di) only when "the superior man never fails reverentially to order his own conduct, and let him be respectful to others and observant of propriety" (junzi jing erwu shi, yu ren gong er you li).

Perhaps what makes the discourse of a Sino-Thai brotherhood powerful is its place as a strong foundation for Sino-Thai relations. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, Thailand has neither territorial disputes nor historical burdens with China. Although Thailand had no diplomatic relations with China during the Cold War, the brotherhood narrative clearly displays the notion that both countries have deep ties. More importantly, it continues to be used in contemporary diplomatic relations between China and Thailand, especially in relation to issues where the two authoritarian governments share the same perspectives.


In this article we describe the uses of the "China and Thailand are brothers" discourse in China-Thailand relations over several historical periods. In the early twentieth century, the narrative of brotherhood was formulated by Thai officials as a means to help integrate Chinese immigrants into local Thai society. After the birth of new China in 1949, the discourse shifted to address Thailand's wish to maintain the Sino-Thai friendship, thereby laying the foundation for normalizing relations between the two countries. During the process of Sino-Thai normalization in the 1970s, this rhetoric became the diplomatic discourse that was employed as a tool to justify the shift in Thailand's foreign policy. Since Sino-Thai normalization, the discourse has been used by both countries to emphasize the deep roots of friendly relations between China and Thailand.

Given the international pressure on the junta government, Thailand's foreign policy toward China has been set, based on the principal rule of "respecting each other's sovereignty" (Chachavalpongpun 2015). In fact, the longer this Thai despotic regime stays in power, the more dependent on China Thailand becomes. Therefore, it can be expected that this discourse will continue to be used to strengthen Sino-Thai ties, and somehow to comfort the Thai government should it completely fall under China's power in the future, as Sun Yat-sen noted more than a century ago.


Kornphanat Tungkeunkunt ([phrase omitted]) is assistant professor of history, Thammasat University of Thailand, and can be reached at Kanya Phuphakdi is research assistant specializing in the field of international relations. The research and writing of the article have been supported by the Special Entrusted Project of National Social Sciences Fund (Document Collection and Historical Studies on China's Neighbors' Policies Toward China, project #15@ZH009). The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, and Professors Shen Zhihua, Liang Zhi, and Han Changqing of East China Normal University for their kindness in sharing primary sources with the authors.

(1.) There are several translations of the expression Zhong tai yi jia qin ([phrase omitted]). We use the phrase "China and Thailand are brothers," as seen in the translation of Li Keqiang's speech from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

(2.) It is difficult to give a precise figure, given some statistics were sharply different (Skinner 1957).

(3.) In fact, Jek is the popular derogatory term for the Chinese in Thailand. It depicts the Chinese as being the "Other" in Thai society (Tejapira 2009).

(4.) Despite the lack of international support, the CPT continued its resistance against the Thai state until the promulgation of Order 66/2523 issued by the Office of Prime Minister in 1980 to convince CPT members to leave the guerrilla warfare, which led to the fall of the CPT.

(5.) One interesting story after the secret mission to the PRC in 1956 is that in order to maintain this secret Sino-Thai relationship, Phibun sent the two children of his close friend Sang Phatthanothai to China, where they lived as adopted children of Zhou Enlai. These children, Wanwai and Sirin, wrote their memoirs about their "hostage" life in China. As a tribute to Zhou, Wanwai's memoir is titled Zhou Enlai Who Cultivated Sino-Thai Friendship, first published in Bangkok in 1976.

(6.) Initially, when China declared the five principles of peaceful coexistence, Thailand was deeply distrustful of China's reliability. The Thai government had suspicions about China's moves and motives (NA SB 5.1.12/1).

(7.) This sentiment can be detected in student parades during the opening ceremony of the Chula-Thammasat (Thailand's top universities) traditional football match in 2016. Keen on the use of political satire, Thammasat student parades mocked the Thai government for falling under the power of China.

(8.) It can be argued that China frames its foreign policy to the world through certain rhetorical tropes. According to Byun (2016), the diplomatic initiatives of both the Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye administrations are aligned in their policy rhetoric of promoting regional strategic trust as the China-South Korea relationship is developed into a strategic partnership.


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Author:Tungkeunkunt, Kornphanat; Phuphakdi, Kanya
Publication:Asian Perspective
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Date:Oct 1, 2018
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