Home / News / World /  Thailand PM’s visit: Closer defence ties on the agenda

New Delhi: India and Thailand will look to extend their defence cooperation—from joint patrols to arms manufacturing as well as possible exports from India—during the visit of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha beginning on Thursday, Indian officials said.

Prayut’s India visit is one among a series from South-east Asia scheduled in the coming months and comes amid tensions between China and a few South-east Asian nations over rival maritime boundary claims in the South China Sea.

Among those expected to follow in Prayut’s footsteps to India in the next few months are Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The tensions over the South China Sea have seen the Philippines move the UN arbitration tribunal on the issue.

The case before the Hague tribunal centres on the applicability of China’s “nine-dash line" South China Sea boundary under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Along with China and the Philippines, four other countries —Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam—also claim islands and reefs falling within the nine-dash line. Indonesia, meanwhile, has expressed concern over Chinese boundary overlapping with its own exclusive economic zone.

Prayut, who will be accompanied by his deputy prime minister and five ministers besides a 46-member business delegation, will arrive in India on Thursday and hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.

This is the first visit to India by a Thai prime minister in three years. In 2012, then Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was in India as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade. She also visited India in December 2012 to participate in the India ASEAN (Association of South-east Asian Nations) Commemorative Summit.

According to Preeti Saran, secretary (east), in India’s ministry of external affairs, the two countries are looking to collaborate in a range of areas and the defence sector has the most potential. “We have strong defence cooperation. You know that Thailand is our maritime neighbour and for us, sea lanes of communication are a very important element...

“They (the Thailand side) had shown a keen interest in procuring defence equipment and establishing joint ventures" during visits of Thailand’s defence minister and the head of Thailand’s defence research organization, Saran said. “We look at Thailand as an important partner," she added.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post this week, India and Thailand are expected to announce a host of agreements in the areas of security, capacity-building and people-to-people connectivity. These may include a decision to jointly produce defence equipment. Bilateral trade between India and Thailand stands at about $9 billion.

Both countries are expected to announce an India-Thailand Business Council to boost trade during Prayut’s visit, Saran said.

India also considers Thailand crucial for reaching out to other South-east Asian countries and is involved in the construction of the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway.

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