India’s Act East and Thailand’s Look West policy will be in focus as Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha travels to New Delhi this week, with maritime security and upscaling of economic partnership with the world’s fastest growing economy on top of his agenda.
The Thai leader’s visit comes less than four months after Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Bangkok, which firmed up an all-encompassing template for reinforcing India-Thailand relations with greater strategic and economic content.
Ahead of his visit, Gen. Prayut has underlined the importance of enhancing maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean with India. The planned cooperation will include military exercises, information exchange and operations to eradicate terrorism and piracy, he said.
Amid the ongoing geopolitical flux, the two countries will be joining hands to counter terrorism and keeping the sea lanes of communication open for commerce. During the Thai prime minister’s visit, the two sides are also expected to firm up plans for joint production of defence equipment, under the Make in India project.
Intensifying counter-terror cooperation will be high on the agenda. The January 14 attacks on Jakarta by the Islamic State has underlined the need for India to expand counter-terror cooperation with ASEAN countries. With more than a million Indian tourists visiting Thailand, home to picturesque beach resorts of Phuket and Pattaya, India is focusing on intensifying counter-terror cooperation through enhanced intelligence-sharing.
China will be closely watching the Thai leader’s visit as Bangkok has moved closer to Beijing under the new dispensation in Thailand. India should leverage the Thai leader’s visit to protect its vital interests in the Southeast Asian country.
The geopolitical connect is reinforced by geo-economic considerations that will set the stage for a plan for doubling bilateral trade and intensifying two-way investment. India looks at Thailand as a bridge linking Southeast Asia to East Asia, while Thailand looks at India as a springboard to West and Central Asia and to Europe. Thailand is India’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN after Singapore. The two sides are expected to sign a pact between Kasikornbank and Axis Bank, which will boost two-way trade and investment.
India’s economic relations with Thailand, the second largest economy in the ASEAN and the Greater Mekong sub-region, are robust, with bilateral trade estimated to be around $9 billion. Thailand ranks No.4 trading partner of India after Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia in ASEAN.
Upscaling investments, which have remained far below potential, will be a major priority. FDI from Thailand is less than $400 million. India’s investment in Thailand at around $700 million exceed that of Thailand’s in India. With the Chinese economy slowing down, the export-dependent Thai economy is looking at India afresh as a hub of investment
Building on ancient civilizational linkages nourished by Buddhism, Ramayana and Sanskrit, one of the key focus areas during the Thai leader’s visit will be to promote cultural linkages and people-to-people contacts. The visit will see the signing of pacts on an action plan for cultural exchange and academic cooperation between Chiang Mai University and Nagaland University. Forging sister city relations between Surat city in Gujarat and Surat Thani province in Thailand is also under active consideration.
Pivoted around the three C mantra of Culture, Commerce and Connectivity, India’s relations with Thailand and the ASEAN region are set to acquire more economic and strategic ballast in days to come.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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