Opinion: Is Thailand Joining BRICS a Disaster?

Foreign minister Maris Sangiampongsa delivers a statement during the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations Meeting in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia on June 11, 2024. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Facebook
Foreign minister Maris Sangiampongsa delivers a statement during the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations Meeting in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia on June 11, 2024. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Facebook

The Thai government controversially submitted an application to join BRICS earlier this month – is it a MISTAKE and a DISASTER?

Well, the timing was awkward, if not bad, considering that Russia, a key BRICS member, is still waging a full-scale war against Ukraine and an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin has been issued by the International Criminal Court.

It seems the Srettha government (or de facto Thaksin government) cannot and would not wait, however, as Thailand needs to revive its economy. One way of doing this is to engage with countries beyond the Western’s immediate sphere of influence. Joining BRICS will deepen Thailand’s economic and political ties with not just Russia, but other major countries like India, Brazil, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.

This writer does not need to spell out how important China is to Thailand, considering its contribution to the Thai tourism industry, trade, and people-to-people exchanges. But we need to look further. India is one country Thailand can definitely deepen its ties in a mutually beneficial manner. The size of its economy is projected to surpass that of Japan next year and it is the most populous nation on earth.


According to the CIA World Factbook 2024-2025, India’s median age is only 28.7 years (compared to Thailand’s 41), so it will most likely keep on growing and it means more potential Indian tourists to Thailand. Currently it is, on and off, among the top five foreign visitors to Thailand and there is no reason why it cannot grow five to 10-fold in the years ahead as it has 1.4 billion people.

Brazil can serve as a gateway for Thailand to engage closer with the Central and South American countries. Brazil alone has 218 million people. The same can be said about South Africa. We can do much more than selling rice to countries in the African continent, which is almost like terra incognita to most Thais and there is so much to learn, to exchange, to grow, and to bond. Here, BRICS will be another alternative platform for Thailand to engage with countries outside the U.S. orbit.

It is right that Thailand recognizes and is part of the creation and growth of a multipolar world. Pax Americana is in decline, if not nearly over, and the sooner Thai people recognize this and adjust to a new geopolitical reality the better.

Clearly, Thailand’s joining BRICS will come at a price, but America has never fully trusted Thailand and our relationship with the United States has been far from equal or mutually beneficial. In the past, the Cold War saw the U.S. propping up one Thai military dictator after another, resulting in the rogue Thai becoming a state within a state up to the present and ready to stage more military coups when opportunity arises.

This is chiefly ‘thanks’ to America’s unwavering support and use of Thai military regimes to repel communism threats, real or imagined, in Indochina. Today, it is clear the U.S. does not really trust us. That is why in May 2023, the Americans refused to sell two of its top-of-the-range F-35 fighter jets to Thailand, citing training, technical requirements, and inability to deliver new ones for at least 10 years.

Less than a year later, in February 2024, Singapore’s Straits Times reported its air force will acquire not just one or two, but eight F-35 jets, which will be delivered in 2030. So, I guess it did not really take 10 years to deliver these expensive toys that cost upward of 82 million dollars a pop.

Not that I think Thailand needs F-35 or more F-16 jets as the current U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Robert F Godec is trying hard to sell earlier this week when he met with Defense Minister Suthin Klangsaeng on Friday as reported by Matichon. Money would definitely be better spent on education, public health, welfare, and not on more expensive fighter jets as we are not as insecure as some of our ASEAN friends like Singapore, which is surrounded by immediate neighbors who too easily get irritated by the island republic for the right or wrong reason.


I say the Americans most likely fear the F-35 sold to Thailand could be reverse engineered by Chinese spies or agents within weeks after the jets landed in Thailand if it were to be sold to the Royal Thai Air Force. (Which might be the case, I must admit.)

It is not that China or Russia is innately more sincere than the U.S. We will have to continue to maintain cordial relations with the U.S., but Thailand needs to forge alternative channels and platforms at the international stage as Pax Americana is on the decline. It is also the right decision (despite the bad timing but I guess Thaksin would not wait) for a unipolar world is innately a more repressive and exploitative world system with just one nation telling others what to do compared to a multipolar world with more voices to be heard.

Also, Vietnam and Malaysia are also interested in joining BRICS – ten more other countries have also applied so we are not alone and would not be alone.