as the powers of europe began to grow and expand throughout the world’s history colonialism became the forefront of this expansion over time almost every non-european nation became a colony of one european nation or another at some point only a few countries managed to escape becoming overpowered by the europeans which makes us wonder how did they do it for a nation like thailand which was surrounded by british french and dutch territories.
there seemed to be no hope of avoiding colonialism and yet somehow not the british nor the french or even the dutch ever colonized thailand and neither did any other european power so if thailand was never subject to colonialism how did it manage to pull that off there are a few reasons to explain why no one ever decided to colonize thailand or at the time the kingdom of siam.
firstly the brits and french in particular were actually a bit relieved to have some buffer territory between their colonies with britain now possessing malaysia and burma and the french taking indochina the two european powerhouses had found themselves only separated by the land of siam without it both sides feared potential border disputes and therefore were excessively hesitant to take the kingdom for themselves.
the netherlands had also entered the region when it colonized indonesia and although this buffer state wasn’t necessarily needed for them since it was not between indonesia and the other colonies the general state of peace that it could help maintain in the area was still a benefit for the dutch so this established an immediate reason for siam to remain uncolonized from the very start but it wasn’t the only factor secondly the siamese kings especially chulalong realized that.
in order to avoid colonization they had to transform their political system into a more europeanized version this became a massive nation-building project that led to the modernization of today’s thailand an important aspect of this project was map making the siamese realized that the europeans put a lot of emphasis on knowledge especially topographical knowledge the europeans used maps to define territory that they ruled and when borders were ill-defined they used this as an opportunity to take the land also the concentration of power was important and the siamese mandalas.
system power wasn’t well defined local rulers maintained a high level of autonomy in different regions and that could have been a problem for the whole kingdom after this problem was realized a standing professional army was introduced this shows the unity of the kingdom and it gave the king more power to control.
the local rulers the concentration of power became a beneficial advantage in the fight against western colonization another important factor might be the transition to europeanism in siam the royal family sets a fashion for admiring western things cars and other european things were imported chulalong corn enjoyed being photographed.
in western clothes and he sent his sons for european education still there was a brief period of concern that may have led to a change of plans if not for the eventual outcome counterintuitive to the presence of siam as a buffer zone pretty shortly after the arrival of the european colonists a war broke out between the french and siamese the pak-nam incident that happened in 1893 can be seen as the culmination of this conflict previously.
the french and siamese had come to an agreement that allowed the french to pass freely all the way up to the pac-nam islands and so they decided to do just that [Music] having already anchored a gun boat at the french embassy in bangkok france wanted to send a second gun boat and in a vizzo up the chao freya river to meet with the first ship for some reason the siamese decided that they no longer wish to permit free passage to the French.
in this instance and instead forbade the french from continuing their journey unsure of what to do next the french commander captain bori tried to await further instructions from paris but no such messages came the french consul auguste pavi suggested that the ship’s anchor at cosi chung temporarily until they received proper advice as to how to continue.
he informed bori of the warning given by the siamese and hopes that this would be enough to pause the journey and avoid any conflict bori contrarily was more focused on his need to move forward given that the next chunk of his voyage necessitated a high tide bori wanted to hurry along his way regardless of what the siamese wanted and so gaining support from rear admiral edgar human borey chose to go forward and ignore pavi’s advice.
this of course did not sit well with the siamese as night began to set on july the 13th the french followed high tide and continued on their path toward the pak nam islands the french were unaware of the fact the siamese had already been prepared for their entry having been waiting in their battle stations at first the siamese would have been unable to see the french ships approaching due to heavy rain and low clouds it wasn’t until the rain had let up that night that the siamese caught sight of the boats as they passed by a lighthouse for now.
there was no action taken the french ships were not in range of the siamese guns and the former was obviously not intending to fight the latter first but once the gap was closed the siamese shut off two blanks to see if the french would heed the warning no response came and the ships were still moving forward.
so the siamese now fired a real warning shot into the water still the french ignored now the siamese fired one more live shot to trigger their gun boats to open fire the french engaged firing back with their own shots which caused a wave of chaos to wash over the siamese defenders with both the fort and gunboats being commanded by newly arrived danes.
who spoke not even a lick of siamese the ability of the siamese to quickly fire back was hindered according to one witness the danish captains on the siamese ships ended up having to run back and forth between the bridge and the guns which they would have to fire themselves the situation scarcely differed at the fort likely due to unorganization and lacking effort by the siamese the french were shortly able to pass.
through mostly unscathed and reach pak nam this entire encounter angered the french especially considering the fact that it was a violation of a prior agreement made by the two sides the initial punishment given by the french was to establish a blockade of the river after the french ships had departed to head back home.
this unfortunately had a significantly negative effect on british trade as well which prompted the brits to put pressure on both sides for negotiations this was not the first time that the french and siamese had clashed over political disputes though since the arrival of the british and french more and more pressure was put on siam and they started to lose some territories earlier on in the previous year tensions had started to rise.
after the french government general of indochina had sent auguste pavi to bring laos under french authority other incidents such as the expulsion of three french merchants by two different siamese governors also sparked an anti-siamese sentiment back in france which only encouraged the brewing friction.
this would later prompt pavi to demand that the siamese evacuate every last military post that they had onto the east of the mekong river as he claims that this region truly belongs to vietnam as part of this pressure pavi sent what would be the first french gunboat anchored in bangkok before that though in april the french sent a military force into the disputed region to seize control.
eventually the siamese did agree to give laos over to the french which required a new treaty between france and britain to establish clear borders between french laos and upper myanmar which was in british hands it was significantly important for both sides to not only define these borders but to also ensure that peace could be maintained with the kingdom of siam.
it remains the case that a buffered territory would be ideal for the british and french colonies and both sides were dealing with enough of their own problems within the surrounding lands to want to risk a war with each other this alone could have stopped thailand from being colonized subsequently the siamese started to pass sweeping economic military and administrative reforms.
this created a new centralization process in siam which greatly pleased the west and led to britain and france reiterating their neutral stance and insisting they had no plans of occupying colonizing or in any other way taking over the territory of siam by 1910 a series of updated treaties that established the borders of modern day thailand that same year king chulalongkorn died and was succeeded by his son king rama vi.
who had been educated at the royal military academy sandhurst and the university of oxford which helped contribute to the leadership’s westernization new education systems and schools were opened the gregorian calendar was adopted and even societal changes were encouraged in order to better match the west following a brief failed palace revolt in which a group of young military officers attempted to overthrow.
the king in favor of a more westernized institution the first world war broke out likely to keep the peace with the west siam declared war on germany and austria-hungary and its role in the war would eventually earn its place in the peace conference of versailles this new level of relevance on the global stage greatly protected siam from the potential risk that they faced in the past from western colonization.
as siam now moved towards a constitutional monarchy and eventually became thailand in 1939 the threat of any western invasion was essentially non-existent due to a combination of geography resistance and assimilation the siamese proved to britain france and any other colonial powers that it was best for everyone that they remain free and uncolonized thanks to the position of the french and british on either side and the policies under the later siamese kings thailand managed to escape colonization.
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