Third guest from Southeast Asia to be accorded the honour in as many years.
Yingluck Shinawatra, elected as Thailand’s first female prime minister in August this year, will be the chief guest for India’s 2012 Republic Day celebrations.
Shinawatra will be the third guest from a Southeastern nation to be accorded this honour in as many years. South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak was the chief guest in 2010, followed by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2011.
Over the past two decades, India’s ‘Look East’ policy has been complemented by Thailand’s ‘Look West’ policy. Both nations celebrated 60 years of their diplomatic relations in 2007. In recent years, political contacts, trade and economic linkages and tourist traffic have grown steadily.
The two countries cooperate closely in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, East Asia Summit, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation groupings, Mekong Ganga Cooperation and Asia Cooperation Dialogue. The implementation of the India-ASEAN agreement on goods’ trade from January has further consolidated this partnership.
Since 2000, bilateral trade has multiplied six times to over $ 6.6 billion in 2010, witnessing an aberration in 2009 owing to the global financial crisis. For January-December 2010, the figure stood at $6.64 billion, an increase of 34 per cent over 2009. Bilateral trade for January-May 2011 was $3.4 billion.
By courting Thailand, India is being careful in not rocking the Southeast Asian geo-political boat. Though Thailand is seen as a strong US supporter and ally, the country has maintained close — arguably closest — relations with China among all the Southeast Asian countries. And, there are reasons for this. Unlike Indonesia or Vietnam, which question China’s sea boundaries, Thailand has no territorial disputes with China. Its Chinese community is neither an irritant nor a threat to its society. Also, Thailand has recognized that it may not always be possible for Washington to help it out and has consciously tried to adjust to the inevitability of Beijing’s economic and strategic reach in the region.
Shinawatra was seen by many as a proxy for her brother, telecom tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, who was elected the country’s premier twice, was ousted in a military coup and now lives in Dubai to evade a two-year jail sentence for corruption. Her immediate challenge is fighting off the charges of administrative and political inexperience, as she struggles to contain the effects of natural disasters — most of Bangkok and low-lying parts in Thailand are in the grip of a flood — and steer the economy out of its consequential crisis. “I’m begging for mercy from the media here,” she said earlier this week in an appeal to reporters. “Let’s set aside politics. We must work to restore people’s morale.”
Shinawatra will find India receptive and sympathetic, even a little envious. About 790,000 Indian tourists visited Thailand in 2010, making India one of the fastest growing markets for the country’s inbound tourism. The number of Thai tourists visiting India was 60,000, mainly to Buddhist pilgrimage sites.