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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Japanese-Thai Relations: Past, Present, and Future

 November 2021 - ongoing

When visiting Bangkok as foreign minister in 2016, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida referred to Thailand as “an economic partner that Japan cannot be without” due to the large number of Japanese companies operating in the Southeast Asian kingdom. Their investments since the 1980s were a major contribution to the country reaching middle income status in 2011. Both countries also have enjoyed a close political relationship since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1887, leading to the declaration of a strategic partnership in 2007. In recent years, however, several factors have complicated this close relationship: the decreasing competitiveness of Thailand as a location for foreign direct investments, the kingdom’s democratic backsliding since the 2014 coup, as well as the increasing influence of the People’s Republic of China in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

This interdisciplinary project aspires to contribute to a better understanding of Japan’s political, economic, and cultural influence in Thailand through a series of case studies on their historical development and present significance, as well as by identifying possible future trajectories. Thailand is a founding and core member of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN). As Germany, France, and the European Union have identified both Japan and ASEAN as partners in their respective strategies for the Indo-Pacific region, the project’s outcomes will also be of interest for scholars of European foreign relations.

The project is based on in-depth desk studies of archival and published sources combined with semi-structured interviews with relevant actors in the public and private sector in both countries. The project is multiscalar; it comprises case-studies about state-to-state relations, investigations of non-state networks enabling the flow of people, knowledge, and capital, as well as inquiries on the regional level into Japan’s and Thailand’s engagement with ASEAN.