New Delhi: Amid growing links between India and the ASEAN, maritime security is a major area that New Delhi and the 10-member grouping of Southeast Asian countries are looking to boost cooperation in through a new "platform".
The ASEAN-India Centre, inaugurated June 21, is to act like a platform for India and the bloc to take cooperation to higher levels, say officials.
"Basically, it is meant to be a resource centre for us, as well as a hub for bringing together experts from both sides, a networking of think thanks," Ashok K. Kantha, secretary in charge of East Asia in the Ministry of External Affairs, said.
"The strategic partnership between ASEAN and India is an objective we need to flesh out - in terms of different dimensions, whether economic and commercial connectivity, maritime security or socio-cultural exchanges," Kantha added.
"We have an intensive relationship already with ASEAN," he said.
The centre has been opened by Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), a think tank for the external affairs ministry. It came up as External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is visiting Brunei to attend the 11th India-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the third East Asia Summit Ministerial Meeting of foreign ministers and the 20th ASEAN Regional Forum meeting - between July 1 and 2.
On July 4, in Singapore, the minister will participate in the regional meeting of Indian Heads of Mission in the ASEAN as well as the Pacific and East Asia.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, who heads RIS, said that many projects are on the anvil between India and ASEAN.
"The ASEAN-India Centre is to be a kind of platform for different areas of our relationship, so that wherever we have convergent interests - how do we learn to work together," Saran told IANS.
Asked what the centre was planning to do on maritime security, Saran said: "Maritime security is certainly an area which has been identified by the leaders where we should work together. So how do we work, what are the specific areas, the centre will be useful in developing cooperation in that."
Asked if China and the South China Sea were to be on the agenda, Saran said: "We are not looking at what we can do together about China. Because one thing we must be clear is that none of the ASEAN countries wants to be caught in some kind of cross fire between India and China or China and the US."
But the forum would help delineate "in terms of how we see the region - in which India and ASEAN as a group of countries have a very strong interest in peace and stability in the area", he said.
The combined population of India and the Southeast Asian bloc is 1.8 billion, which is one-fourth of the global population, and the combined GDP of the region is around $3 trillion.
According to Saran, ASEAN had said that it should be the central platform for the new structure. "They said we must give centrality to ASEAN, even if we are creating a new structure for security, economic cooperation.. We are ready to accept that ASEAN should be the central platform on which we pursue objectives."
The two sides are also to work on connectivity projects, to boost trade and people-to-people connect.
A 1,400 km Trilateral Highway, called Friendship Road that will link Thailand and Myanmar with India, is slated to be completed by 2016.
An ASEAN-India car rally held last year took off from Yogyakarta, in Indonesia, and traversed 8,000 km through eight ASEAN countries before entering India.
The centre will help to "ensure that the connectivity projects generate economic development and empowerment for both India and ASEAN," said Saran.