Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 06, 2022
The 75th anniversary of India–Thailand relations presents new opportunities to further collaborations in different spheres.
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of India and Thailand relations Since 1947, India has enjoyed dynamic bilateral relations with Thailand. 2022 marks the 75th year of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Quite interestingly, India’s ‘Act East’ and Thailand’s ‘Look West’ policy have provided the outline for enhancing mutual diplomatic as well as economic collaboration in a positive direction. The two sides have started celebrating the 75th year by initially launching a logo design competition in January that witnessed 798 logo design submissions from both nations. The logo will be used throughout the year for commemorative activities to be organised in Thailand and India in various cultural as well as commercial events, along with academic exchanges and exhibitions. This reflects the strength and warmth between both nations. As an observation of the 75th year, there was a two-day visit in April by the Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Thailand to India, where both Mr. Thani Thongphakdi, and Mr. Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs of India, conducted the sixth Thailand–India Foreign office consultations to review and understand the current standing and concerns of both the nations.

The logo will be used throughout the year for commemorative activities to be organised in Thailand and India in various cultural as well as commercial events, along with academic exchanges and exhibitions.

Given this momentous occasion, it’s significant to understand the steady growth that the relationship has experienced in the last few years and to delve into some areas where more progress is desired. Thailand has been one of the initial nations to commence diplomatic relations with India. Incidentally, its historical people-to-people and economic ties help in further cementing the relations between the two. They are partners in several regional projects. If one looks at trade and commerce then exports to Thailand in India averaged US $121.7 million from 1991 until 2022. It reached an all-time high of 5,532 million in December of 2021, thus, achieving the status of India’s fourth-largest trading partner in ASEAN. In terms of security cooperation, both nations share a strong partnership. They have even entered into joint defence production. There is a dynamic India–Thai Joint Commission that holds meetings at regular intervals to review the progress of various projects in different areas of bilateral engagements. The ninth meeting is supposed to be held this year. As nations worldwide recuperate from the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time is ripe for India and Thailand to step up their joint engagements. There is also a need to explore and expand the potential between the two in some key sectors. If one considers the physical connectivity aspect then the most awaited India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway is expected to expand land connectivity through Northeast India and Southeast Asia. For the development of India’s Northeast, the trilateral highway is the crucial entry point to ASEAN that facilitates trade and commerce as well as people-to-people links. The completion of this project will also be an important development for Ranong port in terms of multimodal connectivity with India and Myanmar. India hopes to extend the highway to include Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. There have also been talks since 2020 for Bangladesh to join this collaboration as the Trilateral highway hopes to facilitate and enhance the trade and connectivity of the nation too.

The completion of this project will also be an important development for Ranong port in terms of multimodal connectivity with India and Myanmar. India hopes to extend the highway to include Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

As a part of this 1,360 km-Trilateral Highway, India is involved in two sections that mostly fall under Myanmar which is engulfed in protests and violence since the February 2021 coup. The Chin state, where a sizeable work is underway has turned into a warzone with the deaths of hundreds of citizens and growing movements amongst the ethnic groups to decapacitate the military soldiers. It is difficult to predict when these atrocities will die down and the work on the highway will resume again. Tourism is another part that needs a boost. Before the pandemic struck, and travel restrictions were imposed, Indians traveling to Thailand generated US $24.9 million in profits. India is an important tourist destination for the Thais as well. Buddhism is a common thread that runs through both nations. Millions of Thai Buddhists visit Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar in India for their religious trips. Additionally, Himalayan tourism remains a lucrative destination for its scenic beauty, snow, and skiing opportunities that New Delhi intends to showcase further. Recently the Thai PM has endorsed an air travel bubble scheme to encourage more Indians to visit the nation. Air travel bubbles have become an alternative for countries to allowtourists to travel  if regular flights remain suspended. The Indian government resumed its international flight service at the end of March. Moreover, there is huge potential for the growth of trade between India and Thailand. To achieve this, addressing issues regarding the tariff lines and potential trade barriers will be significant. In this regard, reducing import duty charges through bilateral engagements will be essential for expanding trade and investments.

The India–Thai Chamber of Commerce set up in Bangkok opens opportunities for its members to work with government and non-government organisations to enhance their business.

There are also prospects for advancing business opportunities between the two. Thailand 4.0, i.e., the new economic model and the recently launched Bio Circular Green economic model for inclusive and sustainable growth, provides further weight to the already existing partnership. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has been organising and co-hosting conferences, summits, and business meets to reinforce India–Thailand business engagements. The India–Thai Chamber of Commerce set up in Bangkok opens opportunities for its members to work with government and non-government organisations to enhance their business. India’s remarkable growth of start-ups, with many achieving unicorn status, presents huge opportunities for collaboration with Thailand. The emergence of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ is crucial since the latter can invest in India to reduce the supply chain gaps. The products made in India can be likewise traded by Thailand to the Indian diaspora and the world. As the 75th year celebrations are ongoing, a lot of opportunities as discussed remain afloat for promoting further collaborations between New Delhi and Bangkok. Thus, the occasion presents a good opportunity to further expand the strategic, security, and economic cooperation by opening channels of dialogue and solidarity between the two.
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