Thailand – in the shadow of the Chinese dragon

After a rather long stay in Hong Kong (19 days) and Cambodia (21 days), we arrived in Bangkok on January 20; the last station on our journey, where we will stay for 10 days. In continuation of my report on China’s presence in Cambodia, I share here some observations about the same in Thailand.

Baggage from a flight from Nanning (Guangxi) to Bangkok; author’s photo.

First impressions

The first impressions during the journey from the airport to our accommodation have one aspect in common with the arrival in Phnom Penh: everywhere you see Chinese inscriptions on shops, hotels, office buildings, etc. We have been to Bangkok once before, but that was in the 1970s in the 80s when I was stationed in China. Then the inscriptions were also there, but the number is considerably more. In addition, many inscriptions are now also seen in the abbreviated characters used in China, in addition to older ones in the non-abbreviated characters. It suggests that Chinese investors are also busy building here. Oh yes, when I boarded the plane, I heard a Chinese passenger address a Cambodian flight attendant in Chinese without first asking if the good man spoke Chinese. He did that fluently, by the way.

China in Thai identity

Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized. We saw an extremely exciting explanation for that in it Museum Siam. As France gradually expanded its colony in Indochina and England and the Netherlands also strengthened their position in the region, the King of Thailand saw the modernization of his empire as the best solution: to defend your country using a clear national identity. What we now know as ‘typical Thai’: the cuisine, the dances, Thai massage and even Thai boxing, are parts of a constructed but consistently maintained identity. The Chinese, who also settled in this region at an early age, have made a major contribution to this. They are mentioned several times in the history of the hop-on-hop-off bus.

Chinese New Year

We arrived on the eve of Chinese New Year. As we were exploring the area after checking in, we quickly spotted a giant dragon in a square in front of one of the countless malls in this city. The dragon was surrounded by lanterns, rabbits and other accessories associated with the Chinese New Year. A large group of young Thais sat in a large circle around the dragon and waited; presumably at an advertised performance. So what was so striking about this sight? The Thais traditionally celebrate their New Year in April, as do the Cambodians. Yet Chinese New Year is celebrated here as if it were a national holiday, and it seems that it is the young people who celebrate the most exuberantly.

The Chinese are coming

You know it by now: the Chinese can go on holiday abroad again, and they do so eagerly. Many Western countries have also thought of spoiling this fun by requiring PCR testing upon arrival. However, Thailand is one of the exceptions. The Thai Prime Minister even personally welcomed the first group of Chinese tourists. It was a good investment in international relations. As we waited for our luggage, we saw a band of suitcases from a flight from Nanning (see photo), the capital of Guangxi. The next day I read on the front page of an English-language newspaper in Bangkok that 240 flights per day were expected from China during the Chinese New Year. You can actually hear Chinese being spoken everywhere on the street and in shops and restaurants. And like the Cambodian steward, many Thai vendors and waiters speak Chinese. I am writing this report after visiting a theater where even I was directed to my seat in Chinese; probably because the boy heard me speak Chinese.

Shadow of the Dragon

I am still writing all this in connection with the book ‘In the Dragon’s Shadow’, which I previously reviewed on ChinaSquare. Are there differences between the Chinese influence in Thailand and that in Cambodia? There is. Chinese investment in Cambodia is much larger and more intense. China contributes significantly to the building of this country. The Chinese influence in Thailand is more modest. On the other hand, we are working hard to deliver the high-speed line between Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, and Bangkok in 2023. The route from Kunming to Vientiane in Laos has recently become operational. The Thais also see this as such an important milestone that it is reported during the hop-on-hop-off bus ride. China is therefore also Thailand’s friend. Thailand welcomes the Chinese dragon, but like the old European colonial powers, Thailand controls the dragon with a strong national character that is not inferior to the ancient Chinese culture. In this way, both countries create a symbiotic relationship that makes both stronger.

Source: personal observations.

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