German government seeks to strengthen its relations to Thailand in the power struggle against China. The relations date back to the 19th century and flourished particularly during the Nazi era.
BANGKOK/BERLIN (Own report) – In the power struggle against China, the German government is seeking to strengthen its relations with several Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand. According to the new German ambassador to Bangkok, Ernst Reichel, diplomatic relations between the two countries are not close enough and need to be strengthened. Last week, Petra Sigmund, head of the Asia-Pacific Department at the German Foreign Ministry, visited Bangkok to intensify bilateral relations based on “close economic and political ties”. Berlin sees Thailand as an alternative location for German industry now based in China. Relations between Germany and Thailand date back more than one and a half centuries. They were intensified during the German Empire, gained in strength during the second half of the 1920s, when the government in Bangkok turned against the influence of the Chinese minority, and especially flourished during the Nazi era. Already in the 1950s, the Federal Republic of Germany managed to restore its old contacts with Thailand – now on the side of the United States, in the context of the confrontation of the systems.
Royal Visit to Berlin
Initial diplomatic relations between individual German territories and today’s Thailand, which up until 1939 was known as Siam, were established in the 1850s. Relations were maintained throughout the period of the German Empire from 1871 to 1918. Back in 1897, Siam’s King Chulalongkorn visited Germany and was received by Emperor Wilhelm II. Despite the professed friendship between the two countries during the state visit, in 1899 the Foreign Ministry pondered the idea of establishing a German colony on Siam’s Indian Ocean coast in the Langkawi region. Nothing became of these plans; the two governments expanded bilateral economic and military relations instead. During the first decade of the 20th century, Siamese cadets were trained at German military institutions. King Chulalongkorn cultivated relations with Emperor Wilhelm II partially to allow him to maneuver more effectively between the great powers. Following three years of neutrality, during the First World War, Siam’s government declared war on Germany in 1917, had German ships in the country’s ports confiscated and sent a military expeditionary force to Western Europe.
Siam’s Troops in Neustadt
Once the fighting on the First World War’s Western Front was over, Siamese soldiers occupied the German town of Neustadt an der Weinstraße. The troops were later relieved by French soldiers. The diplomatic relations, suspended during the war, were only resumed in 1925. From late 1925 to early 1932, Dr. Rudolf Asmis represented the Weimar Republic in Siam in the rank of envoy. Before the First World War, Asmis had worked for the German colonial service and attempted to re-establish German economic ties to Siberia and Central Asia from 1922 to 1924.
When the King of Siam, who had ruled as an absolutist, died in 1925, the country, which was located between various British colonies (Burma/Myanmar and Malaya/Malaysia and Singapore), was heavily indebted abroad. Great Britain drew Siam increasingly into its dependence through loans. To reduce this dependence, the new king imposed a tough austerity policy. His royal court was reduced from around 2,500 employees and civil servants to around 400. In total, around 4,000 civil servants in all of the country’s ministries were dismissed. Foreign advisors were also forced to resign, including British and French nationals. German Envoy Asmis saw this as a positive development and a step towards greater independence for the Southeast Asian country. With a hostile policy towards Great Britain, Siam became increasingly interesting for Germany’s Southeast Asia policy.
The “Chinese Question”
In 1927, the “Prussian Yearbooks” published an article describing the “Chinese Question” as “Siam’s biggest problem.” According to the 1929 census, Chinese immigrants already accounted for around half of the inhabitants of the Siamese capital Bangkok, while making up only around four percent of the country’s total population. The German envoy observed how communist organizations were also gaining influence through the Chinese minority and saw an extremely restrictive press law as an effective means for combatting “Bolshevik activities”. Germany and Siam’s political elites of had found a common denominator in anti-communism.
Siam’s diplomatic mission in Berlin reopened in 1937, after having been forced to close due to the 1929 global economic crisis. National Socialist Germany had sent a new diplomatic representative to Bangkok in 1936. Under the aegis of Wilhelm Thomas, “relations between Germany and Thailand prospered”, according to a study on the history of bilateral relations. At that time, a German professor was appointed advisor to the Siamese government for the expansion of ports and waterways. Lufthansa opened an office in Bangkok. In July 1939, Lufthansa made its first flight from Berlin to the capital of the Southeast Asian country. Fascist Germany was able to gain considerable influence in Siam.
Initially, Thailand – the new official name of the country as of 1939 – remained neutral in the Second World War, as it had in the First, joining neither the fascist Axis powers nor those of the Allies. During the relatively short period of neutrality, the Bangkok government had dispatched a military attaché to Berlin. In addition, senior Thai officers visited Nazi Germany, and Thai soldiers were trained at various German military institutions. Following completion of his training, one of the officers, Wicha Thitthawat, served directly in the Wehrmacht and became part of Germany’s occupation forces in France.
Smaller Axis Power
In December 1941, Thailand joined the alliance of the fascist Axis powers. Due to its geographical proximity to British India, the Southeast Asian country was a valuable asset for the larger Axis powers Germany and Japan. Rash Behari Bose, one of the leaders of the Indian Independence League (IIL), was granted asylum in Thailand. His brother Subhas Chandra Bose was still in Germany in early 1943 and was taken to the Indian Ocean by a German submarine. After a daring operation, in which Subhas Chandra Bose transferred from a German to a Japanese submarine off the coast of Madagascar, the Indian nationalist headed to Southeast Asia. Nazi Germany also dispatched doctors to assist Thailand in their war against the British.
The End of the War in Thailand
When the German Wehrmacht surrendered unconditionally in May 1945, a German envoy remained in Bangkok. In August 1945, the government of fascist Japan surrendered, thus ending World War II in Asia. Subsequently, Thai Regent Pridi Banomyong proclaimed Thailand’s 1942 war declarations null and void. The Southeast Asian country was not occupied by the Allies; the monarchy remained unchanged. The USA emerged as the major power with the strongest influence in the country. In 1952, Thailand established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Germany. As US allies, Thailand and West Germany found themselves in the same block of the systemic confrontation.
 Karl E. Weber: Dynastic Diplomacy in the Fifth Reign: Siam’s Relations with German Bridgeheads, in: Journal of European Studies (Chulalongkorn University), Jg. 12 (2004), Nr. 1, S. 79–129 (hier: S. 104/105).
 Matthew P. Fitzpatrick: The Kaiser and the Colonies: Monarchy in the Age of Empire, Oxford 2022, S. 35–47.
 Catthiyakorn Sasitharamas: Die deutsch-thailändischen Beziehungen im Zeitalter des Nationalismus, in: Volker Grabowsky (Hg.): Deutschland und Thailand – 150 Jahre Diplomatie und Völkerfreundschaft, Segnitz bei Würzburg 2014, S. 83–99 (hier: S. 87).
 Natanaree Posrithong: The Russo-Siamese Relations: The Reign of King Chulalongkorn, in: Silpakorn University International Journal, Jg. 9/10 (2009/2010), S. 87–115 (hier: S. 89).
 Fitzpatrick: The Kaiser and the Colonies, S. 31.
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 Ebenda, S. 102.
 Bettina Brockmeyer: Der Kolonialbeamte Rudolf Asmis, in: Rebekka Habermas/Alexandra Przyrembel (Hgg.): Von Käfern, Märkten und Menschen – Kolonialismus und Wissen in der Moderne, Göttingen 2013, S. 84–94 (hier: S. 85).
 Grabowsky: Die Politische Situation in Siam 1925–1945 im Lichte zeitgenössischer deutscher Quellen, S. 103.
 Ebenda, S. 106/107.
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 Sasitharamas: Die deutsch-thailändischen Beziehungen im Zeitalter des Nationalismus, S. 85.
 Ebenda, S. 85/86.
 Ebenda, S. 86.
 Ebenda, S. 83.
 Grabowsky: Die Politische Situation in Siam 1925–1945 im Lichte zeitgenössischer deutscher Quellen, S. 101.
 Ebenda, S. 118.
 Sasitharamas: Die deutsch-thailändischen Beziehungen im Zeitalter des Nationalismus, S. 89.
 Frank C. Darling: American Policy in Thailand, in: The Western Political Quarterly, Jg. 15 (1962), Nr. 1, S. 93–110 (hier: S. 96).
 Sasitharamas: Die deutsch-thailändischen Beziehungen im Zeitalter des Nationalismus, S. 96.