New Delhi: Thailand's 'Look West' and India's 'Look East' policy received a big boost with Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and his visiting Thai counterpart, Gen. (Retd.) Surayud Chulanont, resolving to step up cooperation in defence, security and civil aviation sectors on Tuesday. In a statement the two prime ministers said that the policies of the two countries should become a "perfect complement to one another."
In a joint statement, both Prime Ministers agreed to "encourage the authorities concerned" to expedite negotiations on pending defence and security-related agreements and memoranda of understanding with a view to achieving their early conclusion and implementation.
Recognising that terrorism constituted one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, the two leaders condemned terrorism in "all its forms and manifestations" as "criminal and unjustifiable, irrespective of the motives." They resolved to strengthen bilateral cooperation to combat terrorism and to coordinate measures in a comprehensive and sustained manner.
Despite misgivings in certain sections of trade and industry within the country over the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Thailand, the two Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction that the bilateral trade volume between the two nations had crossed the $3billion mark. This has been achieved primarily because of the implementation of the Early Harvest Scheme, under which duty on a select list of products has been brought down.
The two prime ministers also expressed confidence that negotiations on the FTA would end at the earliest during the current year. They also expressed their conviction that a target of $4 billion in bilateral trade by the end of the current year was achievable.
India's 'Look East' policy is due to get a big fillip in the coming weeks with the prime ministers of Vietnam and Cambodia due to arrive at the nation's capital, hard on the heels of the Thai prime minister. These vistis are expected to strengthen economic and cultural ties with India.
Their visit also comes in the wake of a tour to Indonesia and Singapore by external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee. During his visit to these ASEAN majors, traditional ties were reaffirmed and bilateral defence ties received fresh impetus. Over the coming months it is expected that these littoral states and India may announce a slew of defence related agreements for the purchase and maintenance of defence systems and services, mainly from India. In the case of Malaysia and Indonesia, official interest has already been expressed from these nations for the Indo-Russian supersonic cruise missile, BrahMos.
India is slated to provide maintenance facilities for the 18 Su-30's, which are beginning to be inducted by Malaysia. The Indonesians may likely follow suit when deliveries of about a dozen of their version of the Su-30's begin. Agreement between these countries may also include training for pilots and technical personnel.
New Delhi has already entered into free trade agreements with a number of countries in the region and is vigorously pursuing such FTAs with others. Resultant growth in trade shows that India's engagement with the ASEAN nations is moving along well, and that it is expected to grow further in the years to come.