India and Thailand are both wary of China. So, is the fact that the two are coming closer together a good thing not just for bilateral relations, but the region’s overall development? Perhaps, but China won’t like it. This is especially the case with India recently embarking on an intensified diplomatic drive to deepen its strategic ties with countries like Japan, Vietnam and South Korea.
There are already some major signs of increased cooperation between India and Thailand. And, if anything, the just-concluded India visit by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has boosted ties further. Vejjajiva held a summit meeting with Manmohan Singh on April 5 at which both leaders agreed to give high priority to the proposed tri-lateral highway project linking India and Thailand through Burma. This project would take the Indo-Thai relationship to beyond just air connectivity, as more than 800,000 Indians visit Thailand every year, while an almost equal number of Thai tourists visit India. The highway, while promoting trade and people-to-people contacts, will also help revive shared historical and cultural heritage.
In addition, the two prime ministers also agreed to take their already blooming relationship to the next level by finalizing bilateral agreements such as the Extradition Treaty, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in Civil and Commercial Matters and the Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons. They stated that they looked forward to the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit to be held in New Delhi next year.
The significance of Vejjajiva’s two-day trip to India is underscored by the fact that he came here on a state visit—in international diplomacy, a state visit is the highest level of visit by a foreign dignitary, as opposed to a ‘working visit’ or an ‘official visit.’ Finally, the joint statement issued at the end of the visit said the two sides had also agreed to double their current bilateral trade of $6.7 billion by 2014. This target can likely be easily achieved as the two sides are at an advanced stage of negotiations for a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement that should be finalized within the year. Importantly, India also encouraged Thailand to make significant investments in two of its major sectors: infrastructure and agro-processing.
India-Thailand relations have gone from strength to strength in recent years, and will likely continue on an upward trend—whether China likes it or not.