A Genealogy of Bamboo Diplomacy: The Politics of Detente with Russia and China.

AuthorEaksittipong, Sittithep

A Genealogy of Bamboo Diplomacy: The Politics of Detente with Russia and China. By Jittipat Poonkham. Canberra, Australia: ANU Press, 2022. Softcover: 325pp.

The world of Thai and English writings on Thai diplomacy is a peculiar one. Consider these oddities. First, almost all major studies, regardless of the author's background (be they Thai or non-Thai), share the common assumption that Thai diplomatic practice is conditioned by a pragmatic "bending with the wind" approach. Second, even critical scholars and experienced policymakers assume that this so-called "bending with the wind" approach--sometimes referred to as "bamboo diplomacy"--is a unique characteristic of Thai diplomacy. Third, there is a widely held belief that "bamboo diplomacy" has been Thailand's favoured diplomatic practice since the foundation of the country as a modern nation-state, and that the practice has remained unchanged since then. To think outside this dominant paradigm is a tectonic shift. However, A Genealogy of Bamboo Diplomacy has dared to do it. It is therefore unsurprising that this fascinating book has aroused great interest and been warmly welcomed by academics and policymakers alike.

Jittipat Poonkham argues that it is necessary to question the bamboo diplomacy paradigm as "it serves not only to narrate transhistorical diplomatic practices but also to make judgement on the achievement of respective Thai foreign policies" (p. 303). Based on this argument, A Genealogy of Bamboo Diplomacy can be read as both an International Relations text and a book on the history of Thai diplomacy. Drawing from extensive archival research, and relying on Foucault's genealogical approach, Jittipat cogently argues that bamboo diplomacy first emerged as a diplomatic discourse to help Thai policymakers cope with the rapidly changing geopolitical situation in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In the late 1960s, the abrupt changes in international affairs, particularly Hanoi's impending victory in the Vietnam War and the prospect of American retrenchment, caused a great deal of geopolitical anxiety in Thailand. This was partly due to the fact that, thus far, Thai diplomatic practice had been conditioned by the hegemonic discourse of anti-communism, which had resulted in an over-reliance on the United States. In Chapter Three, Jittipat explores how Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman initiated the idea of "flexible diplomacy" in an effort to cope with the changing environment, even...

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