Bowring Treaty

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Bowring Treaty
Bowring Treaty (TH Ver) 001.jpg
Thai version of the Treaty, written on Thai black books, prior to being sent to the British Empire to further be affixed with her seal.
Signed18 April 1855
PartiesSiam and the British Empire
LanguageThai and English
Bowring Treaty at Wikisource

The Bowring Treaty is an 18 April 1855 agreement that Great Britain pressured the Kingdom of Siam to accept, which liberalized foreign trade in Siam (today known as Thailand). Notably, under the treaty, Siam was to allow British ships to import opium into Siam, modeled on such unequal treaties earlier forced on China for the British importation of the narcotic into that country.[1] [2]

The treaty was signed by five Siamese plenipotentiaries (among them Wongsa Dhiraj Snid, one of the king's half-brothers) and by Sir John Bowring, Governor of Hong Kong, Britain's envoy.

The Burney Treaty had been signed between Siam and Britain in 1826. The new treaty elaborated and liberalized trade rules and regulations by creating a new system of imports and exports.[3]

The treaty allowed free trade by foreigners in Bangkok, as foreign trade had previously been subject to heavy royal taxation.[4] The treaty also allowed the establishment of a British consulate in Bangkok and guaranteed its full extraterritorial powers, and allowed Englishmen to own land in Siam.[3] The regulations in short are:

  1. British subjects were placed under consular jurisdiction--British people could not be prosecuted by local Siamese authorities without British government consent. Thus, for the first time, Siam granted extraterritoriality to British foreign aliens.
  2. British subjects were given the right to trade freely in all seaports, and to reside permanently in Bangkok. They were to be allowed to buy and rent property in the environs of Bangkok; namely, in the area more than four miles from city walls but less than twenty four hours' journey from the city (calculated at the speed of native boats). British subjects were also to be allowed to travel freely in the interior with passes provided by the consul.
  3. Measurement duties were abolished and import and export duties fixed.
    1. The import duty was fixed at three percent for all articles, with two exceptions: opium was to be free of duty, but it had to be sold to the opium farmer, and bullion was to be free of duty.
    2. Articles of export were to be taxed just once, whether the tax was called an inland tax, a transit duty, or an export duty.
  4. British merchants were to be allowed to buy and sell directly with individual Siamese without interference from any third person.
  5. The Siamese government reserved the right to prohibit the export of salt, rice, and fish whenever these articles were deemed to be scarce.[5]

Officially a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce,[6] it is nonetheless claimed to be an unequal treaty as Siam was not in a position to negotiate, considering that Britain had demonstrated its military might during the First Opium War with China, thereby discouraging any attempts to prevent Western trade.[7] Siam's fears were only consolidated by the fact that negotiations that had occurred five years earlier between Sir James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak and British envoy, and Siam's King Nangklao had failed, and had led to Brooke threatening to employ gunboat diplomacy to force Siam's hand.[6] The treaty eventually led other foreign powers to sign their own bilateral treaties, based on the rules set by the Bowring Treaty.[3] American envoy Townsend Harris, while on his way to Japan, was delayed in Bangkok for a month by finalization of the Burney Treaty, but had only to negotiate a few minor points to convert it into the 1856 American Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation with Siam.[8] The Bowring treaty in particular ensured that foreign powers would not intervene in Siam's internal affairs, and allowed for Siam to remain independent.[4] The Bowring Treaty is now credited with having led to the economic development of Bangkok, as it created a framework in which multilateral trade could operate freely in Southeast Asia, notably between China, Singapore, and Siam.[4]


  1. ^ Peter Dale Scott, Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus, 1 Nov. 2010, Volume 8 | Issue 44 | Number 2, "Operation Paper: The United States and Drugs in Thailand and Burma" 米国とタイ・ビルマの麻薬
  2. ^ Carl A. Trocki, “Drugs, Taxes, and Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia,” in Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839–1952, ed. Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 99
  3. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Siam" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 7.
  4. ^ a b c "Ode to Friendship, Celebrating Singapore-Thailand Relations: Introduction". National Archives of Singapore. 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-03-03. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  5. ^ Ingram, James C (1971). Economic Change in Thailand 1850-1970. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. pp. 34.
  6. ^ a b "King Mongkut—the Scholar King at the Crossroad in Thai History". Government of Thailand Public Relations Department. 2004-08-20. Retrieved 2007-04-24.[dead link]
  7. ^ "Impacts of Trade liberalization under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) of the World Trade Organization: A Case Study of Rice". Rural Reconstruction and Friends Alumni, Asia Pacific Research Network. 2002-12-01. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  8. ^ "1b. Harris Treaty of 1856" (Exhibition). Royal Gifts from Thailand. National Museum of Natural History. June 21, 2007. Retrieved April 19, 2012. Credits