India and Thailand vowed to deepen their bilateral defense relationship Monday, local media sources reported.
The two sides agreed to boost defense cooperation as Indian Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha paid an official visit to Bangkok Sunday. Raha, who is Chief of the Air Staff as well as Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, is on a four-day trip to Thailand and Vietnam.
As I have noted before, since Narendra Modi took office last year, India has been attempting to further boost cooperation with Southeast Asian states as part of its “Act East Policy,” a variation on the “Look East Policy” first formulated under Narasimha Rao in 1991. The Modi government’s use of the “Act East Policy” is designed to signal a more action-oriented policy toward Southeast Asia (See: “Modi Unveils India’s ‘Act East Policy’ to ASEAN in Myanmar”).
This applies to defense relations as well, and Raha’s trip is being publicized as a case in point. According to a press release by India’s Ministry of Defense seen by The Diplomat, the visit is designed to “further boost bilateral relations between the Armed Forces of the two countries and is likely to provide greater convergence at the operational level.”
In Thailand, Raha held talks with Chief of Defense Forces Worapong Sanganetra, Commander in-Chief of the Royal Thai Air Force Treetod Sonjance and Deputy Minister of Defense Udomdej Sitabutr. According to The Hindu, the Thai side “expressed keen interest” in the area of development of defense equipment and for a higher level of military to military exchange. Both sides also agreed that cooperation should be increased with Bay of Bengal countries to manage sea migration.
The developments come as no surprise. Both sides have been placing greater attention on the defense realm of their relationship, which even officials admit is still quite underdeveloped. Region-wise, India’s cooperation with Thailand in this regard is also arguably not as extensive with other Southeast Asian states like Singapore or Vietnam.
As I wrote earlier this year, New Delhi and Bangkok have both been looking to bolster their defense relationship in several areas, including in defense industry collaboration and maritime security (See: “India, Thailand Seek Expanded Defense Ties”). A variety of issues were discussed when India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval visited Thailand in April. India’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. K Dhowan’s July trip to Bangkok saw a specific focus on strengthening maritime cooperation between the two navies, including hydrography, developing comprehensive maritime domain awareness through the exchange of white shipping information, and increasing the scope of coordinated patrols (See: “India Navy Chief to boost Defense Cooperation on Southeast Asia Voyage”).
The Vietnam portion of Raha’s visit will see him hold discussions with the Chief of General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army, the Chief of the Vietnam People’s Air Force and the Minister of Defense.