Fruitful talks

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recently concluded visit to Thailand may not have received as much notice as his visit to Japan. But the fruitful talks he held in Bangkok and the agreements the two governments signed are indicators of the strong growth of bilateral relations and pointers to better  engagement in future.

Thailand is an important member of the Asean, with which India has strong trade and economic ties. It is one of the early economic tigers of South-East Asia. There is a natural correspondence between India’s ‘’Look East’’ policy and Thailand’s ‘’Look West’’ policy. Historical and cultural ties have existed between the two countries. There is potential for improving economic and political ties. It is specially important for India to have the best relations with all countries in East and South-East Asia, and the Prime Minister probably had this in mind when he said that the country wanted to upgrade the bilateral ties with Thailand into a strategic partnership.

The signing of an extradition treaty, after negotiations for a long time, is an important achievement. Thailand had emerged as a haven for fugitives from the law from India. Gangsters, insurgents, economic offenders, drug traffickers and other criminal elements have escaped to that country and even continued their activities from there. The treaty will now facilitate taking of effective action against them. An MoU on exchange of financial information, which was also signed, will complement the extradition treaty. A very important outcome of the visit was the setting up of a joint working group on connectivity which will push the project to link India’s North-East with Thailand through Myanmar. This trilateral highway, planned for completion by 2016, will give a major boost to trade, investment and tourism in the region. The benefits for the North-Eastern states will be immense. There is also a proposal to lay a railway line that will link South-East Asia with Europe, but this may take a long time to realise, if at all.

Access to Thailand and other Asean countries has become easier with the opening up of Myanmar. The centuries-old idea of linking the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea with a canal through Myanmar is receiving fresh attention now. If that happens India’s trade with the  region will get greater boost. Thailand  and  Myanmar will be important players in India’s emerging relationship with the Asean region and therefore the importance of the ties with Bangkok cannot be over-emphasised.

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