Germplasm diversity is the mainstay for crop improvement and genetic dissection of complex traits. Understanding genetic diversity, population structure, and the level and distribution of linkage disequilibrium (LD) in target populations is of great importance and a prerequisite for association mapping. In this study, 100 genome-wide simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers were used to assess genetic diversity, population structure, and LD of 416 rice accessions including landraces, cultivars and breeding lines collected mostly in China. A model-based population structure analysis divided the rice materials into seven subpopulations. 63% of the SSR pairs in these accessions were in LD, which was mostly due to an overall population structure, since the number of locus pairs in LD was reduced sharply within each subpopulation, with the SSR pairs in LD ranging from 5.9 to 22.9%. Among those SSR pairs showing significant LD, the intrachromosomal LD had an average of 25-50 cM in different subpopulations. Analysis of the phenotypic diversity of 25 traits showed that the population structure accounted for an average of 22.4% of phenotypic variation. An example association mapping for starch quality traits using both the candidate gene mapping and genome-wide mapping strategies based on the estimated population structure was conducted. Candidate gene mapping confirmed that the Wx and starch synthase IIa (SSIIa) genes could be identified as strongly associated with apparent amylose content (AAC) and pasting temperature (PT), respectively. More importantly, we revealed that the Wx gene was also strongly associated with PT. In addition to the major genes, we found five and seven SSRs were associated with AAC and PT, respectively, some of which have not been detected in previous linkage mapping studies. The results suggested that the population may be useful for the genome-wide marker-trait association mapping. This new association population has the potential to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) with small effects, which will aid in dissecting complex traits and in exploiting the rich diversity present in rice germplasm.