Days after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee returns from a tour of Indonesia and Singapore, India will host another ASEAN partner country Thailand’s Prime Minister, General Surayud Chulanont, keeping up the ‘Look East’ momentum. Beginning from June 22, this will be Chulanont’s first visit to India since the army coup in Thailand in September 2006.
Chulanont’s visit reflects another aspect of India’s increasingly “pragmatic” foreign policy, in which trade potential and not democracy and human rights are primary concerns.
India’s relations with Myanmar particularly reflect this trend, with New Delhi being among the few foreign capitals to which Myanmar’s ‘Senior General’ Than Shwe has officially travelled.
Myanmar is ruled by a military junta that wields absolute power and suppresses any dissent. Despite international condemnation and sanctions, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) chaired by Than Shwe has kept Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in detention since her victory in national elections in 1990.
Indian officials say they use every opportunity to privately raise their concerns about Suu Kyi when they meet members of the Myanmarese junta, but Myanmar’s gas reserves and its strategic importance outweigh these concerns about democracy.
Members of the Indian government have publicly stated that the government cannot choose whom it interacts with, but has to do business with whoever is in power in a particular country. Whenever queries about the army’s role in Pakistani politics and about talking with Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf are raised, that is the standard response.
Despite the US and the Commonwealth urging Musharraf to shed his uniform before the elections in Pakistan, the Indian government has never raised the issue in public.
India and Thailand are working on a framework agreement to establish a Free Trade Area between the two countries with the current volume of bilateral trade valued at $3.4 billion. During his visit, Chulanont is likely to discuss progress on the FTA talks.
The Thai premier was appointed within days of the army coup on September 19, 2006, when General Sonthi Boonyaratglin took over the reins of government from former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. The army-run Administrative Reform Council in Thailand will stay in power until a new
Constitution is drafted and put to a referendum.