Three days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) multilateral exercise in his statement at the plenary session of the Kathmandu summit, Thailand had conveyed to India that it would not be able to participate in the military exercise, sources have told The Indian Express.
Sources said Thailand’s Defence Ministry had conveyed the country’s decision to the Indian Ministry of Defence on August 27. Sources said the Thai Defence Ministry let the Indians know that there were budget constraints for participating in military exercises overseas.
Usually, Thai Defence forces participate in military exercises — bilateral as well as multilateral — but they are planned about a year in advance. “Funds are allocated beforehand so that military exercises can be conducted. In Thailand’s system, such exercises overseas cannot be planned at the last minute,” sources said.
While budgeting constraints were the main challenge for Thailand’s participation, New Delhi, however, went ahead and announced the BIMSTEC exercise. At the plenary session of the BIMSTEC summit on August 30, Modi had welcomed the upcoming BIMSTEC Multi-National Military Field Training Exercise to be held in India.
Thailand’s non-participation, as well as Nepal’s last-minute withdrawal from the exercise, led to a controversy over the BIMSTEC exercise which was held in Pune. Nepal, which had agreed to participate, was forced to withdraw after there was political opposition.
As India conveyed its “disappointment” to Nepal over the withdrawal from BIMSTEC’s multinational military field training exercise, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s spokesperson Kundan Aryal told The Indian Express last week that this was a “small incident”, and “should not have any negative consequences on its relationship with India”. He said Nepal, under Oli, was committed to “equal relationship” with India and China.
The BIMSTEC field training exercise, named MILEX-18, was held from September 10-16 at the Foreign Training Node in Aundh, Pune. While Nepal and Thailand decided not to participate, and just be observers, armies of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar took part in the exercise.
India and Thailand’s defence cooperation is guided by an MoU on defence cooperation, signed in January 2012. Bilateral exercises are held annually between the armies and air forces of both countries. The other ongoing defence cooperation is a biannual joint maritime patrolling by the navies and officer training at each other’s institutions. Thailand participated in the International Fleet Review 2016 by sending its frigate, HTMS Saiburi, to Visakhapatnam.