Shillong, June 24: Thai commerce minister Krirk-Krai Jirapaet ended his three-day Northeast experience today with the promise of “building a relationship”, one that could begin with diverting tourist traffic from his country to the region.
Jirapaet, who visited Agartala and Guwahati en route to the Meghalaya capital, said the Northeast was similar to Thailand in many ways. Promising to start sector-wise and region-wise discussions with India, the Thai minister said his country would look deeper into the economic potential of the region.
The first foreign minister to visit the Northeast will be donning a different cap tomorrow evening in the presence of Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont.
But Jirapaet clarified that the region would not be used as a bargaining chip when the Thai delegation discusses the free trade agreement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his colleagues at Hyderabad House.
“There is no quid pro quo. Regardless of what happens, we are going to build a relationship with Northeast India,” he told The Telegraph on the sidelines of his meeting with representatives of the North Eastern Council (NEC) and representatives of the states of the region.
The visiting minister said India had done nothing to attract the one million Thais who roam the world every year. Jirapaet said he was also amazed how India had just three million foreign tourists and Thailand, a much smaller country, was used to playing host to over 11 million people annually.
He had asked former tourism minister Renuka Chowdhry the same question, but it remained unanswered.
Jirapaet said tourism was one area in which the two countries could start working immediately. He accepted the idea mooted by Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who heads the ministry for development of the northeastern region, to have a “working target” and declare 2008 as the “year of Thailand and Northeast India”.
The Thai minister offered his country’s expertise in managing tourism in the Northeast.
In a way, Meghalaya’s presentation this morning seemed to have worked. The state had requested the visiting delegation to ask Bangkok tour operators to look towards the Northeast as an option.