In India-China standoff all sides know that going beyond point of no return will cost everyone and destroy all our dreams’ : Thailand’s ambassador
As China becomes more aggressive in its external posture, the India-China standoff in Doklam is being watched closely across the Asean region. Thailand’s ambassador to India Chutintorn Gongsakdi spoke to Jiby J Kattakayam about how the border confrontation in Bhutan is being perceived in the wider region, India’s Act East policy and why, despite ancient civilisational linkages, it has taken 70 years of Indo-Thai diplomatic ties for trade and cultural exchanges to enter a higher trajectory:
Does the Indo-China standoff in Doklam on the eastern front worry Asean?
It is a standoff where all sides know that going beyond a point of no return is going to cost everyone and is going to destroy all our respective dreams. I believe that people have the good sense to not go beyond a standoff. Coming from an economics background, it does not make any sense to me for any of these flashpoints to explode.
How do you see the atoll-building activities of China in the South China Sea?
We always like to see countries resolving issues on the negotiating table. It is difficult to have black and white outcomes in border issues, but it has been shown in the past that we can live and work amicably and in the spirit of good neighbourliness. It is not in anyone’s interest in the region or outside for potential flashpoints to explode. People have tested each other, but have not come to blows.
Where is the India-Myanmar-Thailand tri-lateral highway at?
While maritime and air connectivity are important, the highway has great symbolism. The political leadership is visualising our people driving and visiting each other by road. Some road stretches still need improvement. Customs and immigration quarantine facilities still need upgrading. I have been to the border. Trucks queue on the road, taking up valuable space and time. As things stand, the borders cannot support the trade we are visualising.
The highway can also connect India to Laos and Cambodia as well. Border posts and truck stops in Europe and in some parts of Asean are like mini cities. Once the highway is ready we cannot have all these trucks parked along the road creating huge roadblocks.
How are Thailand’s relations with China evolving?
We are a small country. We maintain good relations with all the players in the region. We have a longstanding and strategic relationship with the US. We have a long and close friendship with China. India is a more recent player. The relationship with India has more potential to develop. The relationship with China has developed over the years. As nations grow and find their own place in the global stage, the relationship will also reflect that. Our position is to maintain friendly relations with all and to see them play an appropriate and balancing role in the region.
In the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index, why is Thailand at 46 and India at 130?
One factor is Centre-state relationships. With GST, India will improve its rank massively next year because it unifies markets. We are unifying the Asean market as well. India is a good example of a government responding to people’s needs through reforms and not protectionism. The other problem which everyone has is corruption. Some Thai businesses ended their investments because of corruption and local people of influence.
We recently had a particularly bad experience with one Indian state. We haven’t given up on that state. The evolving nature of India is such that we do not give up on the country, or a state, but we will return when the state is more ready. We also advise Thai investors to have a local partner. It makes it easier to adapt to local business culture. While there is competition between Indian states, it is important to choose the right state where the chief minister has the attitude and willingness to help business.
How is Indo-Thai trade progressing?
Indo-Thai trade is doing well. It stands at around $7-8 billion per year which appears satisfactory. However, it can improve to $20 billion considering India’s and Asean’s massive markets. Thailand should be seen by India in the context of the Asean market of 600 plus million people. In this context, any country in Asean is a staging point for the whole Asean market.
I find our economies neatly complimenting each other. Manufacturing is our strength and is of interest to India. At the same time, Thailand needs services and information technology where India is ahead. I keep pointing out to Thai stakeholders that India is an emerging power. So my time in India is spent 40% on marketing Asean, 50% on marketing India and 10% on marketing Thailand, because when I am marketing Asean and India, I am serving my country’s interests.