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Does Japan Dominate Siam?

Far East Contents

By Gareth  Jones
Bangkok, Siam
April 1935 

A new fear has spread throughout the East.  I heard it whispered in Japan, rumoured in the Dutch East Indies and declared openly in Singapore.  It is the fear that Japan has a firm grip over the ten millions of who live in Siam. 

“The Japanese,” I was told in Java, ‘are pushing their Empire ever further Southwards and Westwards.  They want to have a stronghold in Siam.  They want to build a canal which would compare with the Panama Canal and which would enable them to dominate the markets of India and the power of the British in Asia.  This Canal would be the Kra Canal and would make Singapore into a bigger "white elephant” than any owned by the Kings of Bangkok.  They want to be masters of the route from Asia to India and to Africa.” 

This fear has spread to India and so great has it become that even a serious paper like the Times of India wrote on April 11, 1935: “India has this great interest, that the establishment of Japanese economic hegemony over Siam would bring a new international influence into an area which is contiguous with the frontier of Burma.  In the past India’s foreign and defense policies have been dictated by consideration of the risk attaching to her North West frontier, where first the Russian menace and later the Afghan unrest were present.  Should a new militant power establish itself on the eastern border of Burma, India’s foreign and defense policies will need radical revision. 

When the military authorities guarding the life and property of over three hundred million people in India threaten to change their whole defense on account of fear of Japan, the fear is one worth examining.  Is it justified? 

Does Japan really dominate Siam? 

 To answer this question I travelled to Bangkok, the capitol of Siam, where huts of bamboo and straw jutting out of the river stand beneath the shadows of gorgeous palaces and glittering temples.  I spoke to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, to the foreign repre­sentatives, to the merchants, to advisers and professors.  I shall write what I found about Japanese influence in Siam, 

There is certainly a growing friendship between Siam and Japan.  Listen to what a leading Japanese authority said to me: “We Siamese regard Japan as an elder brother.   We are an example to Siam of a country which has freed itself from Western influences and which has progressed rapidly.   The young people here look up to the Japanese and say: ‘If only we could do what they do’.”  But we are not a leader we are only a teacher of the Siamese and it is right that we should play a big part among the Asiatic peoples.”  This talk recalled what a young Siamese student said to a friend of mine: “We want to be the Japan of the South. 

Religion is another link between the Siamese and the Japanese for both lands are Buddhist.  Race is another.  The Siamese are growing more and more conscious that they are Asiatic and the white powers, through their depression and decline and through their mass murder of millions during the War have lost prestige.  There were Siamese soldiers fighting in Europe against Germans and they returned with the tale of a bloody impoverished white race with its members at each others’ throats.   “We of the yellow race are as good as you of the white race, is the thought that flashes through the minds of the young Siamese.  The result is that many European advisers have left the country.  That the Siamese State railways, which formerly had many British experts and foremen has today only one British worker and that Japanese experts are coming to take the place of whites.  Recently cotton experts came from Japan and there are two Japanese officers of high rank in the Siamese in the Siamese Army. 

There are many signs of the growing friendship between the two Buddhist and Asiatic countries.  Many Siamese students now go to Japan.  Recently a number of Siamese naval cadets, abandoning the tradition that the British Navy shall teach the future admirals of Siam, went to receive their training in the Japanese fleet. The Siamese Boy Scouts sent as a token of friendship two elephants, which were received with rejoicing in Japan.  A Siamese parliamentary commission has just paid a visit to Nippon while prison experts have been peeping behind the scenes in Japanese prisons to learn from their new teachers how to run penitentiaries. 

In 1933 at Geneva Siam was the only country in the League of’ Nations which refrained, from voting against Japan in the condemnation of Japanese policy in conquering Manchuria.  The Siamese newspapers are greatly influenced by Japan, because their news comes mainly through the official Japanese news agency, Rengo, and the editors lay great stress upon the importance of Japan in the Far East. 

Japan’s greatest advance is, however, in trade.  As I walked down Bangkok’s main street I saw a great advertisement for the “Datsun” automobile made in Japan. I was angered for I had learned that last year Japan had only exported one single automobile to Siam, and now a store in the centre of the City had been opened for Japanese automobiles. Entering the store I spoke to the salesman.  “We are pushing Japanese automobile which we sell than any other he declared.  Although there was only one Japanese auto bought last year we hope this year to sell more and more.  When we can sell in large quantities we will, of course, reduce the price.” 

Japanese automobiles in Siam!  This is a sign of the growing Japanese grip over many branches of trade.  Japanese manufacturers lead the way in Siam in radio accessories, silk, artificial silk, wire, paper, bicycles, cement, rubber goods and blankets and Great Britain is the greatest sufferer.  It is in textiles, however, that Japan is going ahead most rapidly. In 1932-3 Japan sold 15,725 dozen singlets to Siam.  Within one year that figure had increased seven-fold and 105,049 dozen were sold.  Imports of plain rayon leapt up three-fold in that year. In 1932-3 the Japanese imported 947 bicycles into Siam.  By one year later they had imported 5,246 bicycles. 

Until recently railway contracts in most countries in the Far East were always given to European or American firms.  This year however, a large contract for the construction of railway bridges was given to Japan although there were eleven foreign firms bidding. 

Do these signs of friendship really mean, however, that Japan dominates Siam?  I do not think so.  The Siamese have been affected so much by the wave of nationalism which has swept the world that their cry is first and foremost: “Siam for the Siamese!”  In their new burst of nationalism they are not willing to bow down be­fore any nation. While the cry “Asia for the Asiatics” affects some of them, it is above all for themselves, the Siamese, that they fight and not for the sake of Asia.  They are afraid of being dominated by the Japanese and they are too wise to place their fate in the hands of Nippon, when they have the French on one side of them and the British on the other. 

The Siamese know that they have a vast population of Chinese who are the businessmen of their country.  The Chinese hate the Japanese and would fight any policy of placing Siam beneath Japanese protection.  So much do the Chinese loathe the Japanese that when the Japanese troops marched through Manchuria the Chinese servant boys four thousand miles away, in some families in Bangkok smashed joyfully all the Japanese crockery in the houses, while the store keepers refused to buy or sell Japanese goods. 

The Kra Canal is one of the biggest myths of the century and must be debunked. For the Japanese to build a canal in Siamese territory across the Isthmus of Kra would cost a vast amount of cap­ital. London would never lend the money for an anti-British scheme.  Wall Street would not be so foolish as to put its finger in the pie.  Tokyo is too impoverished to finance the Canal.  Even if by some financial miracle the money were forthcoming, the Canal would be a failure, because no vessel would pay vast dues to save only two day’s voyage and many ships round South Africa in order to save the dues on the Suez Canal.  Nor would captains avoid such a rich free-trade port as Singapore, where they can pick up valuable freight.  No, Singapore can rest calm as a symbol that Britain dominates the North from the Pacific to India. 

“Britain” is the final barrier to Japan in trying to gain domination over Siam.  British advisers still quietly control the finances of Siam and the Siamese money, which has the comic name of “ticul” (about 50c) is linked with sterling. “Does Japan dominate Siam?” I asked a leading English­man in Bangkok. He laughed quietly: “Have you any Siamese money? he asked.  I drew out a five-ticul note (about 2 dollars 50 c).  “Read what is printed at the foot of the note,” he commanded.  I read, “Thomas de la Rue and Co., London”. 

With calm confidence he said: “As long as the word ‘London’ stands on that Siamese bill, it is not Japan but another little island which will have the larger say in the Kingdom of Siam.” 

I think he was right in spite of growing Japanese Siamese friendship the rumour that Japan dominates Siam is one of the scares with which Asia is swarming.


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