Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of History and Politics


Cambodia's status as a "weak vassal" of Siam and Vietnam has been a matter of consensus amongst historians. Most previous studies on Thai-Cambodian relations are based on the framework of tributary relation, emphasising the factor of political and ideological conflict among the courts of Siam, Cambodia and Vietnam. Based on such a framework, scholars have tended to conclude that Siam had no real economic motivation in Cambodia. This thesis aims at reexamining the history of the Thai-Cambodian relations between 1767-1851, in terms of two economic factor: trade and manpower. This thesis argues that trade and manpower, which were the basis of power of traditional states in Southeast Asia, were the economic reasons for Thai interventions in Cambodia.

The consolidation of Thai power over Cambodia, as part of the trans-Mekong basin, was essential for the development of Siamese economy between the Thonburi and early Bangkok periods. The effective control of trade and manpower in the trans-Mekong basin enabled Siam to rebuild its devastated economy after the fall of Ayudhya and return to its former position as one of the most powerful states in the region in the early nineteenth century. However, the presence of the Vietnamese created difficulties for the Thai consolidation of power over Cambodia as well as other parts of the Mekong region. The major factor stimulating conflict between the Thai and the Vietnamese in Cambodia was the attempts by these two rivals to control local trade networks in the area.

As for the Cambodian state, the economic conditions significantly determined the political configuration of Cambodia in the mid-nineteenth century. Its economic basis was either appropriated or largely destroyed by successive wars, devastation and depopulation by its powerful neighbours. Besides, economic interest and extemal interventions further exacerbated factionalism in the Cambodian state. The role of the Khmer nobles in northwestern Cambodia, Battambang and Siemreap, was critical in sustaining Thai domination in Cambodia. The development of Battambang and Siemreap reveals a regional diversity in history of Cambodia. The two provinces not only retained different administrative systems from other Cambodian regions, but were also cut off entirely from the jurisdiction of the Cambodian ralers in Udong/Phnom Penh.

Since Cambodia's basis of power was destroyed, its rulers lacked effective means of implementing policy and securing the loyalty of the okya. The weakness of the Cambodian state revealed in its vulnerability to both local revolts and external incursions. Such conditions were an obstacle for the Cambodian state in achieving real independence from the domination of the Thai and the Vietnamese. In fact, by the mid-nineteenth century, Cambodia ceased to exist as a viable pohtical entity.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.