Why The PM’s Visit to Thailand Matters and 10 Reasons Why It’s Important?

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will pay a six-day official visit to Thailand from April 24, 2024 at the invitation of her Thai counterpart Srettha Thavisin to strengthen ties between the two countries. In this context, it becomes imperative to review the Dhaka-Bangkok ties and map out the importance of the visit.

If one looks back in history, Bangladesh-Thailand relations date back to October 5, 1972, following Thailand’s recognition of Bangladesh. Since then, we have enjoyed excellent bilateral relations. One can argue that the relationship is deeply rooted in religious, cultural, and linguistic linkages of the two countries. Shared commitment to democracy, development, international peace, and security has also brought the two countries to work closely in many areas of mutual interest.

Bangladesh and Thailand celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2022. After coming to power in 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reinvigorated ties with the neighbouring country. The prime minister of Thailand at the time, Yingluck Shinawatra, paid an official visit to Bangladesh between December 21-22, 2012, which was the first official visit by a Thai head of government to Bangladesh in almost a decade. It is worthy to note that the Thai prime minister led a 108-member official and business delegation, which included, among others, deputy prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, minister of commerce, minister of industry and other ministers. The Thai prime minister’s visit bolstered the friendly relations between the two and it has been maintained since.

Now, the upcoming visit of PM Hasina becomes significant for the following ten reasons:

  1. History in the making
    It will be a historic visit as it will be the first-ever visit at the level of head of government from Bangladesh to Thailand since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972. Thus, the visit will create new windows of cooperation between Dhaka and Bangkok.
  2. Deepening ties and visa talks
    The visit will work as a milestone in deepening ties in different dimensions, including diplomatic ties. It is expected that the two countries will sign an agreement on visa exemption for official passport holders which will be imperative to deepen Dhaka-Bangkok ties.
  3. Energy security
    It is expected that there will be a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on energy cooperation. In fact, ensuring energy security becomes a precondition for the continuation of development projects and life standards in Bangladesh.
  4. Tourism
    An MoU on tourism sector cooperation is also expected to be signed. Bangladesh can take Thai support and expertise to improve the tourism sector of Bangladesh.
  5. Trade and economic relations
    The visit also becomes imperative to deepen economic relations. For instance, the volume of Bangladeshi exports to Thailand in 2022 was worth $83.1 million, representing a 53% increase while the import volume was worth $1.17 billion. Thailand offers a duty free, quota free facility for selected Bangladeshi products. There exists Joint Trade Committee (JTC) between Bangladesh and Thailand to map out new avenues of trade. Thus, the visit can provide an opportunity to discuss signing a free trade agreement (FTA) to strengthen bilateral trade. The visit can also be important to attract more Thai investment in our infrastructure development initiatives, the agro-processing sector, the health and pharmaceutical sectors, etc.
  6. Better in person
    According to media reports, around 150,000 Bangladeshis visit Thailand for trade, tourism, or medical purposes every year. Thus, the visit can be an opportunity to strengthen people-to-people contacts between Bangladesh and Thailand.
  7. Help with the Rohingya
    Thailand is an important member of ASEAN. So, Thailand can play a crucial role in case of Rohingya refugee repatriation. So, this visit can provide an opportunity to seek support from Thailand regarding Rohingya refugee repatriation in Myanmar.
  8. Importance to BIMSTEC
    The visit can also be utilized to showcase the growing geopolitical and geo-economic importance of Bangladesh to the BIMSTEC countries, including Thailand. In fact, Bangladesh can be a regional trading and connectivity hub where Thailand can be an important beneficiary and actor.
  9. UN engagement
    The visit will also strengthen Bangladesh’s multilateral engagement. PM Hasina is expected to attend the 80th Session of the Commission for UNESCAP where she is likely to deliver a speech at UNESCAP on April 25. On the same day, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Armida Salsiah Alisjabana will call on the PM. Thus, the visit will provide an opportunity for Bangladesh to focus on its achievements in different sectors.
  10. Unleashing our marine potential
    Bangladesh and Thailand can also broaden cooperation over the blue economy. Thailand is good at marine fisheries. Bangladesh lacks deep marine fisheries ships and marine technology. In this case, we can take technological cooperation from Thailand to explore its untapped blue economy potential.

The PM’s visit to Thailand is expected to be positive in many regards like strengthening our bilateral and multilateral relations, and it could also unveil many potential partnerships from which both countries could benefit.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an adjunct Research Fellow of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA) and an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

Published in Dhaka Tribune [Link]