Visits Visits

Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on the upcoming visit of Prime Minister of Thailand to India (June 15, 2016)

June 15, 2016

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good afternoon friends and welcome to this briefing on the forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister of Thailand General Prayut Chan-o-cha to India from the 16th to the 18thof June. To brief you on this very important visit to which we had been looking forward to for a long time, I have with me Secretary (East) Shrimati Preeti Saran, I have with me our Ambassador to Thailand Shri Bhagwant Bishnoi, and of course Joint Secretary (South) Shri Jaideep Mazumdar.

The way we will handle this is, Secretary (East) will give you a broad opening statement in which she will outline what our expectations are from the visit and what the schedule of the Prime Minister will look like, and after that she is open to taking a few questions. With that, I give the floor to Secretary (East).

Secretary (East) (Shrimati Preeti Saran): Thank you Vikas and good afternoon to all of you, and thank you all for joining us this afternoon for this briefing intended to tell you a little bit about the visit of the Prime Minister of Thailand GeneralPrayut Chan-o-cha who is on a State visit at the invitation of our Prime Minister.

General Chan-o-cha will be accompanied by his spouse Professor Naraporn Chan-o-cha. He is also accompanied by a large delegation which includes his Deputy Prime Minister and five other Cabinet Ministers, a large business delegation and senior officials. The visit takes place from 16th to 18th of June. The Prime Minister arrives here in New Delhi. After his official engagements on 17th, he will then leave for Thailand from Bodh Gaya which will be really a pilgrimage for him and the members of his delegation.

This is the first visit by the Thai Prime Minister during our current Government’s two-year term so far. You would recall that the former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had visited India as the Chief Guest for our Republic Day in 2012 and the same year in December she also attended the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit. So, really this visit by the Thai Prime Minister takes place after a gap of three years. We have had in the last 15-16 years a regular exchange of high level visits from both sides.So, the visit of the Thai Prime Minister takes place in that context.

As I mentioned, he is coming on the invitation of our Prime Minister on a State visit.So, he will be given a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 17th morning, and thereafter he would go to Rajghat to pay his respects there. Thereafter, External Affairs Minister Shrimati Sushma Swaraj will call on the Hon. Prime Minister of Thailand. That will be followed by a bilateral meeting with our Prime Minister and then delegation level talks. Prime Minister will host a luncheon banquet in honour of the visiting dignitary and his delegation. Then the Thai Prime Minister will call on the hon. Vice President. You would recall again that earlier this year in February, Up-Rashtrapatiji had in fact visited Thailand and he had met the Prime Minister at that time as well. This is as far as the programme and his meetings are concerned.

I mentioned to you that the Prime Minister is accompanied by a business delegation, a 46-member business delegation. In the evening of 17th, CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM are organizing a business event where of course the Prime Minister will make the keynote address. At that same event, the first India-Thailand Business Forum will be established. We expect that businessmen from both India and Thailand will hold discussions and we expect them to present a set of recommendations to our leaders during that event.

As you know, India and Thailand enjoy extremely good relations. We have historical civilisational ties. Buddhism in particular is an important binding factor as are legends of Ramayana which are very popular both in India and Thailand.

We regard Thailand as an important connection, as the central pillar of our connection to the ASEAN which is a strategic partner for us. We feel that our Act East Policy which is focused towards the ASEAN region complements Thailand’s own Look West Policy at they call it. So, that is the situation where we look at each other.

India and Thailand also cooperate very closely in several regional forums. Of course the most obvious one is ASEAN where India is a summit partner with them. In addition to that there is the East Asia Summit where our leaders interact regularly. We are both members of the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, we are both members of BIMSTEC; we are also members of Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Asian Cooperation Dialogue. There are several regional forums where we both interact. So, that provides us an opportunity.

In terms of economic cooperation which to going to be an important component, especially in view of the fact that there is a large business delegation that is accompanying the Hon. Prime Minister, I would just like to inform you that our bilateral trade in the last 15 years has actually grown eight times and currently it is about USD 7.93 billion. Our exports to Thailand are about USD 2.63 billion dollars and our imports are about USD 5.3 billion. It is a complementary trade where we complement each other but we see a lot of potential where we can do better and we expect this particular visit to look at that area.

The other areas of cooperation, apart from it being a high-level political exchange, we expect discussions to take place in defence, in security, in education and science and technology and people-to-people contacts.People-to-people contacts is an important element. Quite Apart from the civilisational and historical linkages, there are about 250,000 people of Indian origin who are Thai nationals and live in Thailand.

Tourism has been an important element in building closer people-to-people contacts. About one million Indian tourists actually visit Thailand every year and about 100,000 tourists from Thailand come to India, largely Buddhist tourists. So, there is a lot of pilgrimage related travel that takes place. We look to for further discussions on various issues pertaining to this relationship under the areas that I have just outlined.

This visit takes place at a time when we would be preparing to celebrate the 70thanniversary of our diplomatic relations.We established diplomatic relations with Thailand in 1947. So, it takes place as an important element occasion and we hope that Hon. Thai Prime Minister’s visit will provide a further impetus to our very strong relationship.

I will stop here and then be happy to take questions.

Question: In the strategic arena in the defence, the Thai leader has spoken ahead of his visit about cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. I would like to know more specifically what would that maritime cooperation constitute? And also, is plans to join production of defence weaponry on the cards?

Secretary (East):Yes, definitely we have very strong defence cooperation. You know that Thailand is our maritime neighbour and for us sea lanes of communication is a very important element. We have had very strong defence links with Thailand. We have had regular high level visits. Our Air Chief and our Navy Chief had visited last year and their Defence Minister and the Head of their Defence Research Organization have visited this year. We have regular staff level talks between our two Air Forces and between our two Navies. We have regular ship visits to each other. There is a very strong capacity building training element and several training programmes take place between our two countries. That is the broad overview.

As part of these regular exchanges and interactions, certainly we hope to discuss this further. Specifically when the Defence Minister and the Head of their Defence Research Organization had visited, they had shown keen interest in procuring equipment and for establishing joint ventures. We look to Thailand as an important partner especially when we are looking at attracting more investments in the defence sector as well.

Question: What about the free trade negotiations? I believe we have re-opened talks on the FTA? Where it is right now when is it likely to be concluded? What are the sticking points, if any at all?

Secretary (East):We have had about 29 rounds of discussions on our Free Trade Agreement, what is called a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, with Thailand and there is also an early harvest scheme where we have I think liberalized 84 tariff lines. Certainly, discussions are under way and obviously we are keen to conclude these successfully to our mutual agreement and to our mutual benefit. They are ongoing.

Question: Have they also shown interest in acquiring Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles from India? And are the two countries in discussion for that?

Secretary (East):We are not in discussions on this.

Question: You said that there are 100,000 tourists to India. The number of tourists from Thailand to India is not good enough. What are we doing to address this? How can we increase the number of Thailand tourists coming to India?

Secretary (East):There is a huge potential especially when it comes to Buddhist pilgrimage because there is a lot of interest in Thailand to visit all our Buddhist sites. Certainly we can do better in attracting them. While there are direct flights connecting Bangkok in particular to several major cities of India, I think what is lacking is of course a direct connection to the pilgrimage sites. I would imagine that anybody who wises to go to Bodh Gaya would be happier if there were direct flights. So, I would imagine that could be one impediment. As you know, we have already liberalized what is called an Electronic Visa for Thai nationals, and that should have been an incentive. In fact there would be a CII-led delegation later this year that would be going to Thailand to showcase the immense potential in promoting tourism between our two countries especially in attracting more Thai tourists into India.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): I do not think that is the reason.

Question: You said that there will be 49 delegates. Can you tell me what kind of business people will be there?

Secretary (East):There are 46 business delegates and they are members of the India-Thailand Business Forum. They comprise of both Indian companies and Thai companies. The sectors would be: iron and steel, infrastructure, machine and tools, banking and food processing.

Question: In defence sector, what is the current Indian export to Thailand?

Secretary (East):I do not think we have figures on defence sector but this is an area where we see a lot of potential.

Question: The Thai business delegation is coming. What are the relevant issues? Is there any investment or any other business talks because CII, FICCI and other chambers of commerce are joining? What are the issues that will be discussed?

Secretary (East):I think what they will be discussing is how we can promote and further enhance our bilateral trade and investment.Certainly, we would like to attract more Thai investments into India. We are aware that there are two companies that are part of the delegation that are interested in infrastructure as well as in the hospitality sector, particularly in promoting facilities in the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. We would certainly want to welcome Thai investments coming into India in that sector. We would also like to welcome largely Thai companies to participate in our Make In India programme and other flagship programmes of Government of India. We would also like to explore what are the other avenues that can give a bigger boost to our bilateral trade.

Question: Given the huge volume of both our trade and Thailand trade that passes through the South China Sea, do we expect the larger issues regarding the South China Sea to also figure in our discussions?

Secretary (East): We do not rule out any discussions.Definitely, if that is raised, we would be prepared to address that as well.

Question: Could we focus on South China Sea issue more? What exactly will we discuss regarding South China Sea?

Secretary (East):I am not aware that we will be exactly discussing anything unless it is raised. You know that our position on freedom of navigation is an important area.If it is raised, we will certainly be sharing our views on it.

Question: In space sector…(Inaudible)… are we looking at launching their satellites?

Secretary (East):If there is a request from the Thai side, we will certainly look at it very positively.

Question: You just said two times that they will concentrate on tourism.But last year in Nepal, many Buddhist temples were ruined because of earthquake. Will there be any chance to recreate them too?

Secretary (East):To recreate Buddhist temples in Nepal?

Question: Haan, voh bahut zyada ruin ho gaye thei, toh unke upar thoda concentrate agar hum karein toh?

Secretary (East):Here bilaterally we are looking at tourism in Buddhism sector, we are focusing on Thai-India tourism. So, that would be the area of focus for us.

Official Spokesperson: And we have already offered our assistance to Nepal in the reconstruction of their cultural heritage.

I think that concludes this press conference. Thank you.

(Concluded)



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