Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has dispelled apprehensions that political uncertainty in his country will impair efforts to improve ties with India, especially if the general elections scheduled for the middle of the year results in a change in government.
Mr. Vejjajiva is here to step up security, defence, economic and people-to-people ties. Several high-level interactions preceded his visit, including by Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, to prepare the ground for greater security and economic proximity between the two countries.
“Political uncertainty will not affect ties. There will be continuity. All political parties would like to expand ties with economies like India. Being part of the Asean, they will continue with the integration process chalked out for the next four years. They will also continue to honour agreements with Asean's dialogue partners [of which India is one]. There may be differences among governments on efficiency and priorities, but the direction would be the same,” Mr. Vejjajiva said during an interaction with The Hindu.
“We were held back by the protests and economic downturn, but events have shown how quickly it [the economy] can bounce back,” he said, pointing out that though Thailand went through a difficult period, it ended last year with a record 16 million tourists, including 0.8 million from India. From the negative GDP growth of 2.3 per cent, the economy has bounced back, growing by eight per cent last year.
Mr. Vejjajiva said the limited India-Thailand Free Trade Agreement signed in 2005 was unable to make any progress because of the “internal processes.” Parliament had to approve the proposals; Mr. Vejjajiva did not expect any opposition either. “It is a question of getting through the political process.”
On greater people-to-people interaction, he hoped that India would accede to his request to extend the visa-on-arrival facility to Thai tourists.
He also highlighted the need for extending air connectivity from India to Thai cities other than Bangkok.
Both countries, which conduct joint naval exercises and coordinated patrolling, are now looking at opening further channels of cooperation. “We have to face new challenges and security threats. More cooperation in piracy [control], climate change and [tackling] natural disasters can be expected,” he said.
On the “renunciation” of power by Senior General Than Shwe in Myanmar, Mr. Vejjajiva, one of the few leaders who is in touch with pro-democracy leader Aung Suu Kyi, said: “Hopefully, Myanmar will continue implementing the road map. We can expect changes to continue, but they will be very gradual. They are proceeding at a slow pace because they are very cautious. At the same time, Aung Suu Kyi is assessing the situation and trying to identify what role she and the Opposition would play in the new environment. Much remains to be seen, but the Opposition is regrouping and continuing to assess the situation.”
Keywords: Thailand-India relations