India has embarked upon a strategic road that now, apparently, includes Thailand. The January 25 agreement between India and Thailand to expedite trade talks should also make China wary as it marks a continuation of a process begun in 2011 with South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam – all key strategic concerns for China.
On Wednesday, India and Thailand decided to work closely in building up their infrastructural linkages, specifically with a 1,360 kilometer highway passing through Burma. Also, with an eye on China, India is all set to secure some strategic leverage in the Andaman Sea as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered his visiting Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra support in the construction of a deep sea port at Dawei on the southwestern coast of Burma, a country which figures prominently in the Chinese “String of Pearls” strategy of developing assets in the Indian Ocean region.
India’s rationale for engaging Thailand and honoring the Thai premier as the “chief guest” for this year’s Indian Republic Day parade is to make its “maritime neighbor,” as Singh described Thailand, into one that is physically connected. No deadline has been set for making the promised India-Burma-Thailand Trilateral Highway a reality. The two sides need to set aside political hyperbole and get theproject completed as early as possible, perhaps as early as 2015 or 2016 in mind.
India and Thailand have injected a new vigor into their bilateral trade in recent years, with bilateral trade increasing six-fold over the past decade. The current bilateral trade figureof $7.5 billion is itself set to double by 2015. The Dawei port project would provide a shorter shipping route and would give India quicker access to Southeast Asian markets under the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement.
Singh and Shinawatra also agreed on the importance of preventing transnational crime and resolved to improve bilateral cooperation in security and sharing intelligence. By increasing the frequency of their interactions and increasing the amount of bilateral assistance, their law enforcement agencies are likely to forge stronger relations.
Last, but not the least, Thailand pledged support to India’s candidature for permanent membership of the United Nations’ Security Council.