Throughout the history of the world, colonialism has been at the forefront of the growth of European powers. Almost every non-European country at some point in history was a colony of a different European country. We are curious as to how a select few nations were able to avoid being subjugated by the Europeans.
Colonization looked unavoidable for a country like Thailand, which was encircled by British, French, and Dutch territory. However, none of the European powers—not the British, nor the French, not even the Dutch—nor any other nation colonized Thailand. So how did Thailand manage to do that if it had never been colonized?
There are a few explanations for why nobody ever made the decision to colonize Thailand. First off, the British and French in particular were somewhat relieved to have some buffer area between their colonies, or at the time, “The Kingdom of Siam.” The only thing standing between the two European superpowers, the British who now controlled Malaysia and Burma and the French who now controlled Indo-China, was the “Land of Siam.” Without it, both sides worried potential border disputes and were reluctant to acquire the Kingdom for themselves.
When it colonized Indonesia, the Netherlands also made their way into the area. Although they didn’t strictly need this buffer state because it wasn’t between Indonesia and the other colonies, the Dutch nevertheless benefited from the general state of peace that it could assist preserve in the region. This offered an immediate justification for Siam to avoid colonization from the beginning. However, it wasn’t the only one; another was the Siamese king Chulalongkorn’s realization that his country needed to modernize its governmental system in order to prevent annexation. This developed into a significant effort at nation-building that helped Thailand become more advanced.
Making maps was a crucial part of this effort. The Siamese were aware of the importance that Europeans placed on information, particularly topographical knowledge. When borders were unclear, the Europeans took advantage of the opportunity to annex the region. The Europeans utilized maps to identify the territory they controlled. The Siamese mandalas system wasn’t well defined, and the concentration of authority was also significant. Additionally, local rulers maintained a great degree of autonomy in various districts, which could have been problematic for the entire kingdom. A standing professional army was established when this issue was identified; this exhibits the kingdom’s unity and provided the king greater authority over the local tyrants.
Power was consolidated, which helped in the struggle against western colonialism. The shift to Europeanism might be a significant additional factor. The Royal family of Siam establishes a trend for admiring western goods. Imported items from Europe included a car. Chulalongkorn sent his sons to school and enjoyed dressing up for photographs.
However, there was a brief time of anxiety that, if not for the results in the end, might have resulted in a change of plans.
Contrary to the presence of Siam as a buffer zone, a battle between the French and Siamese started quite soon after the entrance of the European colonists. The conflict’s climax, the Pak-Nam incident of 1893, can be considered to have occurred. The French and Siamese had previously reached an understanding that permitted them to pass freely all the way up to the Pak-Nam islands, so they chose to do just that.
France sought to deploy a second gun boat and in an aviso up the Chao Phraya River to meet with the first ship after mooring a gun boat at the French embassy in Bangkok. The Siamese for some reason decided they no longer wanted to provide the French free passage in this case and instead barred them from completing their journey. Captain Borey, the French commander, attempted to wait for more guidance from Paris but no messages arrived. August Pavi, the French consul, advised that the ships set up temporary anchorage at Kosi Chang. until they were given sound guidance on how to proceed.
In the hopes that this would be sufficient to halt the expedition and prevent any conflict, he notified Borey about the warning issued by the Siamese. Borey, on the other hand, was more concerned with the need to advance because the following part of his journey required a high tide. Despite what the Siamese desired, Borie wanted to move quickly, thus with the help of Rear Admiral Edgar Humann, Borey decided to disregard Pavie’s counsel and continue on. The Siamese, of course, found this offensive.
On July 13, as dusk fell, the French followed the high tide and continued toward the Pak-Nam Island. The Siamese had been waiting in their battle stations for the French to enter, but the French were not aware of this.
Due to the heavy rain and dense clouds, the Siamese would have initially been unable to see the French ships coming. The Siamese didn’t notice the boats until the rain stopped that night when they sailed by a lighthouse. There was no immediate action taken. The Siamese guns were not within striking distance of the French ships, and the former did not plan to engage the latter right away. The Siamese, however, cut off two blanks after the distance was closed to see if the French would heed the warning. The ships continued to move forward in the absence of any comment.
The French continued to ignore the Siamese’s true warning shot into the water. The Siamese now fired a final live shot, causing their gunboats to fire. The French responded by opening fire with their own bullets, which sent the Siamese defenders into a tailspin of confusion. With recently arrived “Danes” in charge of the fort and gunboats who didn’t speak a word of Siamese. The Siamese were unable to quickly retaliate because of this. One eyewitness claimed that the Danish captains of the Siamese ships eventually had to go back and forth between the bridge and the guns that they would have to fire themselves.
Due to the Siamese’s lack of organization and effort, the situation in the fort hardly changed, and the French were soon able to pass through. Reach Pak-Nam largely unscathed. The entire interaction incensed the French, especially given that it was a breach of an earlier understanding reached between the two sides. After the French ships left to return home, the first punishment meted out by the French was to blockade the river.
Unfortunately, this had a very bad impact on British trade as well, which led the British to exert pressure on both parties to engage in negotiations. However, this was not the first time that the French and Siamese have engaged in violent conflict over political issues. Since the British and French arrived, Siam has been under increasing strain and has begun to lose some of its territories. After the French government’s General of Indochina dispatched August Pavie to subjugate Laos, tensions had already begun to build earlier in the previous year. Anti-Siamese animosity was also fueled in France by other events, such as the expulsion of three French merchants by two different Siamese governors which only fueled the growing conflict.
This would eventually lead Pavie to assert that this area actually belongs to Vietnam and demand that the Siamese vacate every single military post they had to the east of the Mekong River. Pavie would dispatch the first French gunboat anchored in Bangkok as part of this effort. Prior to that, though, the French sent a military force into the contentious area in April to seize control. Laos was eventually ceded to France by the Siamese, but this needed a new treaty between France and Britain to draw boundaries between French Laos and upper Myanmar, which was under British control.
It was significantly important on both sides to not only define these borders but to also ensure that peace could be maintained with the Kingdom of Siam. It remains a 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 please the west and led 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.
Determining these borders was crucial for both sides, as was making sure that relations with the Kingdom of Siam could remain peaceful. It is still the fact that a buffer zone would be excellent for the British and French colonies, as neither side had enough to worry about in the way of external conflicts to desire to risk one. The Siamese began to enact extensive economic, military, and administrative reforms. This created a new centralization process in Siam that greatly pleased the west and led Britain and France to reiterate their neutral stance and insist They had no plans of occupying, colonizing, or in any other way influencing the country. This alone could have prevented Thailand from being colonized later.
The boundaries of contemporary Thailand were set by a number of amended treaties by 1910. King Chulalongkorn passed away in the same year and was succeeded by his son King Rama VI, whose education at the University of Oxford and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst contributed to the westernization of the ruling class. Schools and new educational systems have opened. Following a brief, aborted palace revolution in which a group of young military officers attempted to depose the king in favor of a more westernized institution, the Gregorian calendar was adopted, and even cultural changes were pushed in order to better reflect the west. The start of the First World War.
Siam declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in an apparent attempt to maintain peace with the West, and as a result of its involvement in the conflict, it was finally admitted to the Versailles Peace Conference. Siam was substantially shielded from the threat of future annexation by the West thanks to its newfound prominence on the world scene.
Since Siam has transitioned to a constitutional monarchy, Thailand eventually emerged in 1939. Due to a mix of geography, resistance, and assimilation, the prospect of any western invasion was basically nonexistent. The Siamese showed Britain, France, and any other colonial powers that it was best for everyone if they remained free and uncolonized. Thailand was able to avoid colonialism due to the alliance of the French and British on either side as well as the policy of the subsequent Siamese rulers.
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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