Indian Defence Minister’s official visit to Thailand

At the invitation of the Ministry of Defence of Thailand, Mrs. Niramala Sitharaman, Defence Minister of the Republic of India, paid an official visit to Thailand during 26-28 August 2018. While in Thailand, the Indian Defence Minister called on Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Government House on 27 August. She also held bilateral discussion with Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Thailand General Prawit Wongsuwon at the Ministry of Defence of Thailand on the same day.

During the meetings, both sides discussed many issues relating to Thai-Indian defence cooperation. They welcomed positive momentum of ongoing bilateral defence engagement, and discussed measures to further enhance and deepen defence cooperation between the two countries. The Thai side thanked India for its role in rescuing the 13 Thai youth footballers trapped in Tham Luang Cave in Chiangrai, and Minister Sitharaman congratulated Prime Minister Prayut for Thailand’s success in the said rescue mission, about which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has commended the Thai Government for its efficiency in the face of such an arduous operation, and praised the team effort of all concerned sectors in his monthly radio programme.

The Thai Prime Minister remarked that Mrs. Sitharaman was the second female Defence Minister of India, after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who also held the defence minister portfolio in her time. He also expressed condolences over the passing away of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the recent flood in 6 states of India.

Prime Minister Prayut commended the progress of military cooperation between Thailand and India which has expanded to cover more dimensions, especially in marine security, anti-cyber crime, anti-terrorism, and national defence industry, as well as in enhanced military exercises in all branches of service. Thailand strives to promote security cooperation, both at bilateral and multi-lateral levels, in accordance with the country’s “Thailand+1” and “Thailand 4.0” policies, and the development of Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), which are in line with and would complement India’s “Act East”, and “Made in India” policies. Thailand, India, and ASEAN could further strengthen cooperation to cope with security threats in the Indo-Pacific region. The Prime Minister was also pleased to learn that the Indian Army will soon host the first multilateral exercise under BIMSTEC, to which Thailand stands ready to send senior observers to attend, and told the Indian Defence Minister he looked forward to meeting Prime Minister Modi again during the BIMSTEC Summit in Nepal.

Through the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Sitharaman proffered her best wishes to His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (Rama X), and his mother, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Consort of King Rama IX, for their recent birthday anniversaries (28 July and 12 August, respectively). She also expressed pleasure, on behalf of the Indian Government, to welcome Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in her planned visit to India towards the end of this year, and thanked the Thai Prime Minister and other ASEAN leaders for attending India’s Republic Day celebrations as guests of honour in January, while Prime Minister Prayut asked her to convey his regards to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Modi of India.

The Indian Defense Minister also said that India stands ready to promote military and security cooperation with Thailand, as agreed upon in the talk she had earlier with the Thai Defence Ministry, including the cooperation in training of officers, (in related security matters, English language, and R&D in defence industry). As Thailand will become ASEAN Chair in 2019, India is also committed to the cooperation with Thailand under the ASEAN framework through related security mechanisms of ASEAN – especially within the framework of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) – for the sake of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. She also stressed India respects ASEAN centrality and ASEAN’s role in the said region.

During her visit to Thailand’s Ministry of Defence, Minister Sitharaman met General Prawit Wongsuwon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, who expressed his satisfaction with the long-lasting and ongoing friendship and cooperation between Thailand and India, noting that the two countries just celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations last year. The two Ministers then discussed measures to further promote Thai-Indian military cooperation, including enhanced bilateral navy exercises. Both countries will also explore enhancement of ongoing joint exercises, the MAITREE counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism Army Exercise, as well as their SIAM BHARAT Air Force exercise. Both sides would also expand cooperation on maritime security, focusing on the greater sharing of information to develop Maritime Domain Awareness, as well as cooperation in training in India for Thai security personnel, and in defence industry R&D.

At the regional and intra-regional levels, the Ministers stressed the importance of cooperation with India under ASEAN and BIMSTEC frameworks, which are significant linkages between Southeast Asia and South Asia. the Indian Minister welcomed Thailand’s forthcoming Chairmanship of ASEAN and as the ASEAN country coordinator for India, which would create additional pathways for engagement between India and Thailand, including under the ADMM- Plus framework. She also extended an invitation for the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Thailand to visit India again. (He paid an official visit to New Delhi in March, 2016.)