There’s Americans, and then there’s the U.S. government
DISCUSSIONS | May 31, 2006
Thepchai Yong, Thailand
2005 Nieman fellow; Thailand; group editor/The Nation Multi-media Group
Thai people in general have a positive perception of America. Like most countries in Southeast Asia, their perception has been largely influenced by American Hollywood and pop cultures. But despite the close relationship between the two countries, the educated classes are more skeptical of the U.S. geopolitical agenda. The period during the Vietnam War was the first time that anti-American sentiments became widespread in Thailand where people saw the US as an aggressor. Playing host to American airbases, Thailand was directly drawn into the conflict – something which was opposed by many people.
There was sympathy for the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 even though there was a strong feeling against what the intellectuals and the media saw as U.S. unilateralism and interventionism. However, the war in Iraq did much to change many people's perceptions. The war was widely covered by the media and generated widespread debates among many quarters of Thais. Even though the Thai government sent troops to help in the reconstruction work, many Thais strongly questioned the legitimacy of the military venture which added to the U.S. image as an aggressor. The feeling was particularly strong among the Muslims in the south, which is a hotbed of Islamic militancy. It's not uncommon to hear Thais refer to the U.S. as "the self-appointed global policeman".
Of course, Thais do distinguish between the U.S. government and the American society. They still draw inspiration from U.S. cultural openness, freedom of expression and modern technology.