Anyone who has ever been to Thailand or read anything about Thailand has undoubtedly heard that Thailand is “the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized.”
On one level that is true. On another level, however, many scholars have argued that Thailand, or “Siam” as it was known before 1939, was what we might call a “semi-colony” as its government did not have complete sovereignty. Many foreigners, for instance, were not under the jurisdiction of Thai law, as they were protected by an “extraterritoriality” clause that their home nation had obtained in an (unequal) treaty signed with Siam.
Still other scholars have argued that at the same time that Siam was a “semi-colony” of European countries, it was also a colonial power itself as it created an empire in the nineteenth century that brought under its control areas that had previously been autonomous.
Today I immediately thought of this latter point when I came across a document that King Chulalongkorn sent to American president Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. This is how King Chulalongkorn referred to himself in this document:
“King of Siam, both Northern and Southern and all its Dependencies, Laos, Malays, Kareans, etc.”