India will play host to interim Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont later this month, the first visit to the country by a Thai leader after the military-backed government assumed power in September last year.
Chulanont, a former army chief respected for his spit-shined "good soldier" image, comes to the Capital on June 25 on a three-day visit that is likely to see the finalisation of a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and Thailand - home to nearly 100,000-strong Indian diaspora.
New Delhi has shown pragmatism in dealing with the military dispensation in Bangkok, which sacked the democratically elected government led by Thaksin Shinwatra in September last year, and has not allowed this to affect the pace of its growing economic engagement with this important ASEAN country.
During his visit, Chulanont will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, chairperson of the ruling coalition Sonia Gandhi and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and discuss with them a host of bilateral, regional and global issues, including intensification of trade and investment and issues relating to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
The focus will be on wrapping up FTA negotiations that could lead to a quantum jump in the current $2.2 billion bilateral trade between the two countries. The Thai government also plans to open two trade offices, one in Delhi and the other in Kolkata.
Gen Chulanont's visit tops up a week of Look East diplomacy on the part of India and comes soon after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee returns from a visit to Indonesia and Singapore - key ASEAN partners.
Time magazine has hailed Gen Chulanont as one of its 'Asian heroes' and praised him "as the most important Thai military figure of the modern era" who was pivotal in changing the military's public image as a modern, accountable professional organisation.
At the time of the military coup last year, India had reacted cautiously saying that it had taken note of the commitment of the military dispensation for "returning power to people."
India's ties with Thailand have been reinforced by its burgeoning relationship with the ASEAN, the formation of the sub-regional grouping BIMSTEC and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation project.