To say that this week will be a dizzying, busy week for Thailand is an understatement. For the next few days Thailand is playing host to the leaders of the world's two most powerful countries _ US President Barack Obama and China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Arriving in Thailand Sunday, President Obama's visit underscores the geopolitical significance of Southeast Asia and Thailand at a time when the US and China are competing for a firmer stronghold in Asia, which is set to be the world's strongest growth machine.
Just days before Mr Obama's Bangkok visit, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was in Thailand to strengthen the Thai-US military alliance. The Pentagon chief's visit was a curtain-raiser to Mr Obama's Southeast Asia trip to confirm the US determination to maintain its influence and contain China's power in the region.
Apart from cementing military ties, President Obama's plan to involve Thailand in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal shows the US's earnest intention to bring about another economic grouping in the region _ one with the US as the core. When Mr Obama leaves for Myanmar today, he will be leaving behind many challenges for a smaller country like Thailand on how best to protect national interests when it aspires to be part of the global economy where the rules are set by the big guys.
The back-to-back visit by Premier Wen serves as a reminder that the US is no longer the big guy Thailand should watch out for. The challenge for Thailand is not only to strike a balance between the two rival world powers, but also between the economic benefits from the alliances with both the US and China which serve big business and the ensuing environmental and public health costs that will hit the weak and the poor.
For better or for worse, the challenges ahead are what Thailand must accept as part of the game in the inter-connected economies.
To protect national interests, the country needs a democratic and open system that is responsive to local voices and needs. It is an anti-climax, therefore, that the week beginning with a fanfare which highlights the country's commitment to connect with the world will end with a mass rally calling for a "freeze" on Thailand's democracy for five years.
True, a peaceful mass rally is part of a democracy. But one calling for coups to topple a democratically elected government is unacceptable when it risks plunging the country into another round of violence.
True, the Pheu Thai-led government should be taken to task for its many questionable policies, such as rice-pledging and other hand-out schemes, not to mention many corruption charges. But there is a parliamentary channel to do that, which is exactly what the opposition Democrat Party will be doing during the no-confidence debate on Nov 25-27.
Although the ultra-conservative Pitak Siam group insists that its Nov 24 rally will be peaceful, deep fear and distrust which has prompted the government to deploy tens of thousands of police officers to maintain order simply shows the country is still trapped in a political minefield.
Without strong and rational civil movements to monitor the government, not including the ultra-conservative forces that constantly put the country in perennial emergency mode, the rise of Asia _ as shown by the Thailand visits of the two world powers _ may well pass Thailand by.