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Convinced that India-Thailand partnership bound to become stronger: Thailand Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: Thailand Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow has expressed confidence that bilateral ties with India will grow in strength and move towards a strategic partnership that will boost the partnership between the two countries on the regional and global level.
Delivering the lecture on "How Can Thailand and India be Strategic Partners?" organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs, the visiting dignitary noted that there has been a lot of redirection of foreign policy since the Cold War period when distance between two nations had grown.
Phuangketkeow said, "The fact of the matter was that there was some distance in our relationship because of the Cold War. So the view from Bangkok was not the same as the view from New Delhi. But of course, with the end of the Cold War, a lot has changed. And I think we've seen a lot of realignment of relations."
"We've seen a lot of redirection of foreign policy because of the Cold War. And also, I think it has to do a lot with the changes within India, the reforms in India, the opening up of India. And a lot of it has to do with the changes in my region, the changes in East Asia. And so that has led to closer engagement between India and ASEAN, and India with East Asia," he added.
Phuangketkeow said there was a need to speed up efforts for a strategic partnership between Thailand and India, which was first talked about 12 years ago.
"And that began, I think, in 1991, when your Prime Minister at that time, Prime Minister (Narasimha) Rao announced the Look East Policy. And subsequent to that, I think we've seen India growing closer to the region. India became a full dialogue partner in 1995. And then you became, we had upgraded our dialogue relations to a summit level in the year 2002, I think. I have to ask my deputy permanent secretary here no, 2005."
Terming 2012 as significant year for India-Thailand ties, he said, "And then the year 2012 was significant because India became our strategic partner. And 2014, if you will recall, Prime Minister Modi announced I would say the continuation of the Look East into the Act East policy. And in 2002, India became comprehensive and we entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership between India and ASEAN. So that is the evolution of the relationship and the developments, the broader dynamics of the region has had a very beneficial impact on the partnership between Thailand and India."
Phuangketkeow stated that India and Thailand will have strategic partnership because there is profound development in international system. He also talked about the emergence of the Indo-Pacific.
He said, "Looking ahead, I am pretty much convinced that this partnership is bound to become stronger and it's not simply going to be a bilateral partnership. It's going to be a regional partnership and I hope a global partnership in future."
"The reason I am confident that our partnership will grow and hopefully become a strategic partnership is because this very profound development in international system that you have noted is the emergence of the Indo-Pacific region. Now, when I joined the foreign ministry 40 years ago, there was no term Indo-Pacific. We only had South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia," he added.
In January 2012 during Thailand Prime Minister visit to India, which coincided with the 65 th year of bilateral diplomatic relations both sides signed six pacts in, areas ranging from defence, security to trade, combating terrorism, and piracy, agreement on Free Trade Area (FTA) in goods, services and investment, FDI, and a legal framework to deal with non-state actors and subversive elements that pose a common problem to both countries. Thus, the move towards establishing a more comprehensive partnership was set in motion.
Phuangketkeow said, "And then when the economies of East Asia began to move, we talked about the East Asian economy. And then the United States wanted to be part of the booming economies of East Asia. We had cooperation that extended on both sides of the Pacific Rim, so we had the Asia-Pacific cooperation. And now the term that we hear so frequently is the Indo-Pacific. And Indo-Pacific will have a very important bearing on our partnership now and going into the future. But what is the Indo-Pacific? I don't think it's a geographical region as such. I think in truth, it is a geopolitical, geoeconomic construct. What does it reflect? It reflects the profound transformative changes that have occurred in the world."
Both India and Thailand are important regional partners linking South and Southeast Asia. They cooperate closely in the ASEAN, East Asia Summit (EAS) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for MultiSectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) groupings among others.
Highlighting the transformative changes in the world, the visiting Thai minister stated that there was shift in the balance of power from the West to East and people even started talking about the Asian century. He stated that Indo-Pacific community showcases two profound developments which is the rise of India and China.
"First, the shift in the balance of power from the West to the East. And now we all talk about this Asian century. We are in an Asian century, but are we going to be able to sustain the Asian century? That depends on our ability to meet the challenges ahead. But the Indo-Pacific community, it's not a community yet, maybe a community with a small sea, reflects I think two very profound developments. First, the rise of China. Second, the rise of India."
Lauding India's foreign policy under External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, he said that people talk about the expanding role of India and the remarkable way India has been able to carve out its "special brand of foreign policy" and even called it "independent and constructive."
"Nowadays, it's very fashionable to talk about the rise of India. Definitely, especially under your present foreign minister, people talk about the expanding role of India, the growing influence of India, and the remarkable way India has been able to carve out its special brand of foreign policy, a brand that is independent but yet constructive, a brand that retains India's strategic autonomy in the midst of the growing geopolitical competition that we face," he said.
He said that Indo-Pacific is growing in economic importance and in strategic importance. He stated that the ties between India and Thailand will also be determined by the rise of ASEAN.
He said, "I think the term Indo-Pacific also reflects the connections between the two oceans in terms of the important sea lanes of transport, sea lanes of communication that transfers the region. And so what has happened is that the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Oceans have become one strategic space, one strategic domain. And so freedom of navigation, security of sea lanes, and maritime security are important issues for all of us in the Indo-Pacific. And now we have an Indo-Pacific that is growing in economic importance and in strategic importance. And this indeed has a very important bearing on the direction of our partnership."
And I forgot to mention also that our partnership will also be determined by another important development, that is the rise of ASEAN, the 10 countries of ASEAN. We are now, combined together, the fifth largest economy in the world. Of course, India alone is the fifth largest economy in the world. We're hoping that if we get things right by the year 2030, we will be the fourth largest economy in the world, if we get things right. And we also pride ourselves in, I was in Germany a few days ago, and I told my German colleagues that we consider ourselves the second most successful regional organization after the EU," he added.

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