Tracing 130 Years of Thailand and Japan Diplomatic Relations

BANGKOK, Sept. 12, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- As a country well-known for eccentric fashion trends, refined cuisine, and arguably the world's most iconic popular culture, Japan – through its soft power – has gained great influence among the Thai people. Look no further than the crowds of cosplayers in the Siam shopping district or the abundance of Japanese restaurants on every street in downtown Bangkok. In 2016, Japan welcomed a total of up to 901,525 Thai tourists – an exponential increase from 796,731 tourists in 2015. Indeed, the interest is mutual: the amount of Japanese visitor arrivals in Thailand has also been on the rise in recent years. In 2016, the number of Japanese tourists entering Thailand was 4th highest among those from foreign countries, with up to 1.44 million arrivals.

130th anniversary of the establishment of Japan-Thailand diplomatic relations
130th anniversary of the establishment of Japan-Thailand diplomatic relations

Despite impressive tourism statistics and what would seem like a great deal of familiarity between the two countries, in truth, not many on either side are aware of the historical ties which make the relationship that Thailand has with Japan one of the strongest and most meaningful, among all other nations. As this year marks the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Japan, it is perhaps as good a time as any to reflect on the journey the two countries have taken together up to the present day.

First interaction between the peoples of Siam, the former name for Thailand and Japan began over 600 years ago through trade. By the early 17th century, the trade volume between Siam and Japan was larger than the combined trade volume between Siam and all other countries. Not long after, Japanese migrants started settling in Siam, forming a Japanese village or 'mooban yeepoon' in Ayutthaya, which was home to around 1,500 Japanese settlers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand stated.

It wasn't until the late 19th century, however, that Siam and Japan established their diplomatic relations through the signing of the Declaration of Amity and Commerce on September 26th, 1887, during the reign of King Chulalongkorn and Emperor Meiji. In the years that followed, Japanese scholars were frequently sent to Siam to help develop and modernize the country in the areas of education and culture.

At the heart of Thai – Japanese relations has always been the close ties between the two royal families. Over the years, members of the Chakri Dynasty and Japan's Imperial Family have continually exchanged visits. The latest visit to Thailand of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan in March 2017, in order to pay their last respects to His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was a reflection of the goodwill between the two royal families, and represented a gesture of support from a true friend for Thailand during a difficult time. This strong foundation has underpinned growth in other aspects of the ThailandJapan relationship over the past 130 years.

The driving force behind modern ThailandJapan relations lies in economic cooperation. Japan is currently Thailand's number one investor. The Board of Investment of Thailand (BOI) statistics for the first half of 2017 estimate an investment value of up to 65.44 billion Baht (US$1.97 billion) from Japan (compared to 40.9 billion Baht in the first half of 2016). Japan is also Thailand's second largest trading partner, with a total trade value of 917.05 billion Baht (US$27.56 billion) in the first half of 2017. New dimensions of economic cooperation have also emerged in response to shifting global economic trends and new economic policies and initiatives launched by the governments of both countries, such as industrial development in special economic zones, infrastructure development, science and technology, and human resources development.

In commemorating 130 years of the diplomatic relations between Thailand and Japan, relevant agencies of both sides have organised a series of activities throughout the year in Bangkok, Tokyo, and other cities in Thailand and Japan. Among the upcoming key events is a concert by the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo on September 26th, 2017. In Bangkok, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, in cooperation with the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok and the Japan Foundation, will  organise an exhibition under the title '130 Years of Thailand – Japan Friendship' at Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall from September 27th until October 8th, 2017.

The exhibition, which will be open to the public from 10:00 to 19:00 hrs. every day, except Monday when the museum is closed, presents various aspects of the Thai – Japan relationship, ranging from interactions among the royal families to political and economic cooperation. It is a must for anyone wanting to learn more about history and the relationship between the Land of Smiles and the Land of the Rising Sun.

Department of East Asian Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand
Tel: +662-203-5000