Looking East? Time to renew Thai-India relations
October-December 2017
By: Pavin Chachavalpongpun

Relations between Thailand and India have blossomed steadily since the end of the Cold War. The inevitable shift in the international order required the countries to readjust their respective foreign policies to cope with the changing environment, as well as to tilt toward one another so as to reap the benefits from such change.

Accordingly, in 1991 Indian Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao took a bold diplomatic step by initiating what was considered a watershed in his country’s foreign affairs: the “Look East” policy. Although this policy encompasses the larger Asia-Pacific region, there can be no question that Southeast Asia, in which Thailand is located, constitutes a significant aspect of it. During the Cold War, India was perceived by some of its Southeast Asian neighbors as a threat because of its intimate association with the Soviet Union and the build-up of its military, propelled by an ambition to become the region’s naval power. With a new political landscape in which Southeast Asia emerged as an economically dynamic region, Rao redirected his country eastward and was eager, albeit in a subtle manner, to enter into competition with other great powers to gain Southeast Asia’s attention. This represented the basis of India’s Look East policy.

This essay discusses the evolving relations between Thailand and India. It tackles three points. First, we will examine Thailand’s domestic crisis, its effect on foreign policy and the Thai perception toward the changing strategic landscape in the region. Second, we will analyze bilateral ties between Thailand and India at the political, economic and regional levels. And third, we shall investigate the challenges India faces in strengthening its relations with Thailand, both now and in the future.

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