India and Thailand: Bilateral Trajectory after the Indian Prime Minister’s Visit

16 Jun, 2013    ·   3993

Aparupa Bhattacherjee elucidates the strengthened ties and future course of bilateral relations vis-à-vis the recent visit

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer

Manmohan Singh’s official visit from 30-31 May 2013 to Thailand is the second one by an Indian Prime Minister since Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004.

What did India and Thailand achieve out of this visit? What will be the potential trajectory in India-Thailand relations?

Strengthening India-Thailand Relations
The recent visit witnessed the signing of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) covering several spheres of bilateral relations between the two countries. Interestingly, the seven MoUs that have been signed focus on three areas: Extradition, Education and Publication work, and, Space Technology. To provide a legal structure to the extradition process between India and Thailand, two MoUs were signed; one, a Treaty on Extradition, to provide a legal framework for seeking the extradition of fugitives, including those involved in terrorism, transnational crimes, and economic offences. This is a much anticipated treaty between India and Thailand. After twenty years of negotiations, both countries will finally have a structured legal basis to extradite the criminals whose trials are awaited in their respective countries. Second, a MoU between the Financial Intelligence Unit, India and the Anti Money laundering Organisation, Thailand on Cooperation in the exchange of Intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism financing was finalised. Another treaty was ratified, which was signed by both the governments on January 2012, for providing a chance to convicted and sentenced foreign nationals to serve their sentence in their own country. The ratified Treaty on transfer of Sentenced Persons paves the way for both India and Thailand to consider exchanging prisoners based on the merits of each case. The treaty emphasises that the swap of prisoners will be done strictly on a case by case basis, depending on the nature of crimes they have committed. Mostly, prisoners who would have served maximum sentence and at least one year of sentence remained would be eligible under the treaty. This treaty has become essential, especially for the Indian government, since Thai laws are extremely strict on drug trafficking, theft, and murder.

Two more MoUs were signed, with the spotlight being on education, and the establishment of the India-Thailand Exchange Programme. Another agreement with a similar focus was signed between the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Thammasat University for the establishment of the ICCR Hindi Chair of Indian Studies (Hindi Languages). This chair will also offer a Bachelor of Arts Programme in Indian Studies for the first time in Thailand. The special chair in Thammasat University, Thailand on studying Hindi as a language is an encouraging step toward the growth of India-Thailand relations. This kind of encouragement of Indian languages in Thailand is a big step towards the development of people to people relationship. Financial support will be given to the work on translation of Thai literature into Indian languages.

To build connections in science and technology, Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) has signed two MoUs. One was with the Survey of India for Mapping and Geospatial Technology Applications, for the mutual cooperation in a project titled “Indo-Thai Geo Spatial Cooperation”. Another MoU was signed with National Atlas and Thematic Organisation (NATMO) for collaboration in the same field. Under the project titled “Indo-Thai Geo Spatial Cooperation”, both the organisations will share and demonstrate capabilities and expertise gained by the Survey of India in Urban Mapping. Moreover, as per the agreement, the Indian Institute of Surveying and Mapping (IISM) will be imparting training in surveying and mapping techniques to five officials of GISTDA each year. This support of India will help develop a better relation with not only Thailand but other ASEAN nations. The other project aims to publish an Archaeological Atlas in book and digital form, jointly by NATMO and GISTDA with thematic plates using high-resolution satellite data and geospatial technology to highlight the spread of Buddhism from India to Southeast Asia. The proposed project will also include other ASEAN countries that will be participating in the 2015 ASEAN Economic Community, along with India and Thailand.

Charting the Trajectory of Indo-Thai Relations
The visit has added a new dimension to the India-Thailand relationship. Thailand’s ‘Look West’ and India’s ‘Look East’ policies have been pivotal for the development of the Thailand-India relationship towards a strategic partnership; especially for India, recognising Thailand as a gateway to the whole of Southeast Asia region. India has already strengthened its trade relations with Thailand and other ASEAN countries. In fact, in this particular visit, stress had been given to the outlining of the framework of the India-Thailand Comprehensive free-trade agreement in order to reach a conclusion.

Thailand-India relations are strategically pivotal when it comes to trade, combating terrorism, crime, drug and human trafficking, and enhancing peace in the region. More strong bilateral ties are also essential if the region takes steps to intervene in Myanmar. The ethnic conflict in Myanmar, leads to an influx of refugees into both India and Thailand, which is a chronic problem for both countries. Moreover, the building of India-Thailand relationship can be seen as one essential step on behalf of India towards the development of better relations with ASEAN as a region.