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Relations with Thailand: India’s bridge to Southeast Asia

Published: 16th May, 2022


  • History of India-Thailand relations
    • Since 1947-1991
    • India the Post-Cold War Period
    • Cooperation between India and Thailand in 21st Century
  • What are the core areas of cooperation between India and Thailand?
  • Security Cooperation between the two countries in the 21st Century
    • Emerging India-Thailand Maritime Cooperation
    • Bilateral Military Exchange
    • India-Thailand Counter-terrorism mechanism
  • Growing Economic Engagement between India and Thailand
    • India-Thailand Economic Relations
    • Further of Economic Relations between the two countries
    • Connectivity Cooperation between India and Thailand


Since 1947, India has enjoyed dynamic bilateral relations with Thailand. 2022 marks the 75th year of diplomatic ties between the two nations.


  • India and Thailand, located in each other’s extended neighborhood, share a maritime boundary in the Andaman Sea.
  • Thailand was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with India in 1947, while the economic and cultural relations between the two could be traced back to more than 2000 years and provide the very foundation of the bilateral relationship.
  • The ancient cultural threads that linked Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar have often been so-called the ‘Indianised’ States in Southeast Asia.
  • India and Thailand located in each other’s extended neighbourhood share a unique civilizational linkage.
  • Further, Indian traders since ancient times have been using the water between the two nations in order to carry out trade. 
  • Ancient Thailand’s contact with India through trade eventually brought ideas, culture, language and technologies from a region where urban centres had already developed.

History of India-Thailand relations:

Since 1947 to 1991:                                                                                                                                           

  • In the post India independence period, Indo-Thai relations had no doubt remained lukewarm with neither the King nor the Prime Minister of Thailand during 1947-76, paying a State visit to India. 
  • The reason for above being that Thailand was an ally of United States and part of South East Asia Treaty Organisation.

The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was an international organization for collective defence in Southeast Asia created by the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, or Manila Pact, signed in September 1954 in Manila, the Philippines.

United States led the group, while Pakistan was also a member of it.

The organization's headquarters were also in Bangkok. Eight members joined the organization.

  • Though change in Thailand’s diplomatic stance could be seen when in 1971 it remained neutral during India-Pakistan conflict.
  • Hopes of upswing in the relations between India and Thailand did not blossom though the 1980s as the latter was not happy with former’s response to Kampuchea crisis.

In the Post-Cold War Period:

  • Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao chose Thailand for his first visit outside the subcontinent in 1993. 
  • The announcement of the ‘Look East’ policy in 1994 which coincided with India’s economic reforms provided the very platform Thailand was seeking, in expanding its bilateral trade and commerce with India.
  • The ‘Look West’ policy announced by the Thai government in 1997 sought the strengthening of the existing bilateral relations with regions beyond Southeast Asia.
  • The current PM of Thailand Mr Chan-o-cha made a State visit to India in June 2016 during which both sides agreed to further enhance security and economic cooperation. 
    • During this visit Both sides discussed issues that included politics, security, maritime security, trade and investment, digital cooperation, rubber and palm oil trade, regional connectivity, Indo – Pacific Partnership and Thailand’s readiness to accept the Coordinatorship for ASEAN - India Dialogue Relations in August 2018

What are the core areas of Cooperation between India and Thailand in the 21st Century?

  • High-Level Exchanges: Regular visits between the Prime Ministers of both the countries demonstrate the expanding horizon of relationship between India and Thailand.

High Level Exchanges

Dignitary visiting Thailand


PM Narendra Modi

10 Nov 2016 (To pay homage to HM late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Great), 02-04 Nov 2019 (to attend ASEAN related Summits: 16th ASEAN India Summit, 14th East Asian

Vice President M. Hamid Ansar

Feb 2016

PM Dr. Manmohan Singh

July 2004, Oct 2009, May 2013

PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Nov 2002 (transit), Oct 2003

PM P. V. Narasimha Rao

April 1993

PM Rajiv Gandhi

Oct 1986

President V. V. Giri


Vice President Dr. Zakir Hussain


  •  International Forums: They cooperate closely in the:
    • ASEAN
    • East Asia Summit (EAS)
    • Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)
    • Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC)
    • Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD)
    • Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)
    • Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS)
  • Trade relations
    • In 2021, Thailand became India’s fourth largest trading partner in ASEAN.
    • Trade between India and Thailand reached US$11.88 billion in 2019, which reduced to US$ 9.92 billion in 2020, owing to the major disruptions caused by the pandemic. In 2021-22, Thailand was India’s 22nd top trade partner, with a total trade of US$ 6.6 billion.
    • Bilateral trade during the current year is poised to surpass US$12 billion despite the pandemic. ASEAN India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) and Early Harvest Scheme between India and Thailand have played an important role in the growth of bilateral trade and investment.
  • Defence cooperation: The MoU on Defence Cooperation between India and Thailand was signed on 25 Jan 2012. Since 2015, India is participating in Ex-Cobra Gold, the largest Asia Pacific Military exercise as ‘Observer Plus’ category.
  • India-Thailand Counter Terrorism Cooperation: A bilateral MOU on Defence cooperation was signed during the January 2012 Thailand PM’s visit.
    • In the area of counter terrorism according to the MOU, both sides resolved to significantly enhance bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism, including in restricting transnational movement and unauthorized stay of known terrorists in each other's countries.  


The Indo-Thai relation today is not just looked upon from the angle of socio-cultural ties. Since the relation in today’s context has become very comprehensive in its scope. This bilateral engagement has the potential to foster growth not only restricted to the two nations but for the entire region.

This is very much evident given the fact that cooperation in the areas of security, economic, and connectivity being interconnected, would also have the same level of impact on the neighbouring States and the region as a whole. 

Practice Question

Q1. India and Thailand have historical and cultural roots that reach back much beyond the 75 years of diplomatic relations. Elucidate.

Q2. The convergence of Thailand’s ‘Look West’ and India’s ‘Act East’ policy lights the path to the bright future for India-Thailand relations. Examine.


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