The Ambassadors REVIEW
Setting the Stage for the Next 175 Years:
United States and Thai Relations Renewed
Eric G. John
United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand
The Obamark Connection
hile everyone in the world now knows the name Obama, perhaps only
about 65 million people are familiar with “Obamark.” Like many Thais,
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has a nickname, Mark, given to
him by his parents. After Barack Obama won the democratic nomination, Abhisit’s
supporters in Thailand began calling their man Obamark to draw attention to the perceived
similarities between the two men: both are young, highly educated, well-spoken politicians
who each promised their countries change. And as fate would have it, both men have
assumed the mantle of leadership at the same time: Abhisit was endorsed by the King of
Thailand and became Prime Minister on December 17, 2008, only a few weeks after
Barack Obama won the election to become President of the United States.
President Obama’s election victory was enthusiastically received by the Thais.
Like many embassies around the world, we held an election watch party to follow the
polling results live as they came in from the other side of the world. Nearly 2,000
attendees—including 1,100 students—attended what became a loud, boisterous and festive
Both the Governor of Bangkok and then Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat hand-
delivered their congratulations after the final results were announced. Before the inaugura-
tion, the Embassy initially distributed 3,000 copies of a Thai language booklet on the
President-Elect that was originally published in English by the State Department. But
demand was so high for this booklet that we had to print another 5,000 copies to send to
our contacts in government, industry, universities, libraries and media.
I don’t know if Prime Minister Abhisit is bothered by the comparison or by his new
nickname; I suspect that he probably feels flattered.
But one thing I am sure of is that the
convergence of these events has brought a sense of renewed energy to our bilateral
relationship. The Thai enthusiasm for our new president, coupled with the similar
dynamism and youthful vigor found in their Prime Minister, has set the stage for a re-
invigorated relationship just as the two countries celebrate 176 years of partnership.
History of US-Thai Relations
The vast geographical distance between our two countries belies a deep and
enduring partnership in countless spheres. Last year marked the 175
formal relations between the United States and Thailand born from the Treaty of Amity
and Commerce that was signed on March 20, 1833. The Treaty of 1833 was America’s
first treaty with any Asian country, making Thailand America’s oldest diplomatic and
trading partner in the region.