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New Delhi: India and Thailand on Friday outlined a road map for cooperation in areas spanning defence and maritime security to increased trade and economic interaction in a bid to impart new momentum to their ties.

The two countries agreed to speedily conclude the India-Thailand Free Trade Agreement and bilateral investment treaty besides putting infrastructure projects linking the two countries like the Asian Trilateral Highway—connecting India to Thailand through Myanmar—on the fast track.

Given the physical proximity of Thailand to India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-o-cha “agreed to forge a closer partnership in the fields of defence and maritime cooperation. A partnership to meet our bilateral interests; and to respond to our shared regional goals," Modi said in remarks after his talks with the Thai prime minister.

India has been trying to add more content to its “Look East" policy, outlined in the early 1990s to increase linkages with the economically vibrant Association of South-East Asian Nations or Asean. The idea was to link India’s underdeveloped and insurgency-riven north-east to South-East Asia with the aim of hastening its economic growth.

Since Modi took office, India’s “Look East" policy has been renamed “Act East" policy—suggesting a greater focus and emphasis on India’s interaction with the group that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Prayut’s India visit is one among a series from South-East Asian leaders 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. 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 United Nations 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.

On Friday, Modi described Thailand as “a trusted and valued friend" and one of India’s “closest partners in South-East Asia". Future security cooperation between the two countries would be shaped by the “sharing of expertise and experiences, greater staff exchanges and more exercises, cooperation on counter-piracy on seas, deeper engagement in naval patrolling, and building linkages in the field of defence research and development and production," he said.

A joint statement said India and Thailand had “expressed a keen interest in enhancing cooperation in maritime domain including anti-piracy cooperation, security of sea lanes of communication including coast guard cooperation to maintain peace and ensure safety and security of navigation in the Indian Ocean".

Thailand “expressed an interest in the Indian defence industry and its experience and expertise in the field of defence R&D and production", the statement said.

On the economic front, both countries agreed to encourage their businesses to invest in the other country.

“Alongside trade, there are also ample avenues for greater manufacturing and investment linkages. We see a particular synergy between Thai strengths in infrastructure, particularly tourism infrastructure, and India’s priorities in this field," Modi said.

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