| Vajpayee gets a traditional welcome at Chiang Mai on Saturday as Thai Prime Minister Shinawatra (right) looks on. (PTI)
Chiang Mai, Oct. 11: Thaksin Shinawatra’s attempt to emerge as the undisputed leader of Thailand, as well as Southeast Asia, appears to be one of the main reasons behind the Thai Prime Minister going out of his way to court India.
India offers a huge market for Thai goods and investors. Its leadership in the field of information technology and biodiversity is something that few dispute and Thailand can benefit immensely from both. India is also a nuclear power and has a strong and disciplined army and a blue-water navy.
These factors combine to make India a key player in the region with whom Thailand wants to have deep and strong relations.
In a country where the army has always played a crucial role and more often than not had the last word over civilian leaders, Thaksin seems to have done pretty well. He has recently brought about key changes in the army that many in Thailand felt were impossible, and has established his supremacy over the generals.
Now, Thaksin plans to make himself acceptable outside his country.
The Thai Prime Minister has already had serious engagements with Russia, China and other world players.
In little over a week, Bangkok will play host to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, which will also be attended by President George W. Bush and his counterparts from Moscow and Beijing.
Thaksin plans to showcase the summit in a big way. That this is the first time that Bangkok is hosting such a major event is an indication of the growing clout that the Thai Prime Minister enjoys within and outside the country. The new image, Thaksin feels, will boost his prospects of winning next year’s election.
However, the Thai Prime Minister is aware that being seen as a follower of the US camp is not enough, either to win elections in the country or to be regarded as the key leader of Southeast Asia. He needs to strengthen his image as a regional leader and this can only come from his engagement with other major powers in the region, such as India.
The warmth shown to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee over the past two days in Bangkok, continued this afternoon in Thaksin’s home constituency, Chiang Mai. Vajpayee arrived here this afternoon from the Thai capital to begin the last leg of his seven-day visit.
Thaksin was present to receive Vajpayee and later in the evening hosted an impressive dinner for him.