Bangkok: India and Thailand on Wednesday laid a roadmap for further strengthening bilateral ties including in the defence sector as the two countries expressed their shared interest in securing international sea lanes in the South China Sea.
Hamid Ansari, who flew into this southeast Asian country as the first by an Indian Vice President in half a century, held talks with Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-Ocha and said he sees a "very promising future for our bilateral relation".
Ansari said there is much untapped potential in the bilateral relationship and much to rediscover and learn from each other's culture, industry and society.
"With its unique geographic location, Thailand can be a bridge linking South East Asia to East Asia; while India can act as your springboard to West and Central Asia and to Europe. "Our talks earlier today have put in place a roadmap for further strengthening our economic cooperation and intensification of our collaborations in all areas," he said.
Amid China's territorial claims over the strategic South China Sea that has been contested by over half a dozen countries with overlapping stakes, Ansari expressed India and Thailand's "shared interest in the security" of international sea lanes.
"As maritime neighbours, we have a shared interest in the security of international sea lanes of communication and commerce. Our resolve to strengthen our bilateral engagement in the areas of security and defence will help the region as a whole and promote greater regional economic integration and connectivity," he said.
In a speech at a banquet hosted by premier Prayut in his honour here, Ansari termed challenges of this century as "enormous" which merit common understanding and joint efforts as he pointed out that "globalisation of terrorism, impact of climate change on humanity and the health hazards which know no borders require global action".
"The international community is grappling with issues related to migration and integration of people," he said, adding: "Our cultures with a civilisational heritage of peace, pluralism and co-existence in can offer lessons and lasting solutions."
Ansari arrived on his two-day visit here at the invitation of Prayut.
Earlier in the day, Ansari said India and Brunei, from where he flew into Thailand, have an interest in maintaining the safety of the sea-lanes in the region.
Brunei, along with other ASEAN members like Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, has been also staking claims in the South China Sea.
His comments on security of international sea lanes come amid flexing of muscles by China, that claims the South China Sea and 90 per cent of the islands including major shipping lanes that dot it.
The South China Sea is a major shipping lane. Over half of the world's commercial cargo passes through the Indo-Pacific waterways.
Cooperation, both bilaterally and in the ASEAN rubric, encompasses diverse areas of mutual interest including trade and investment, science and technology, education, and cultural exchanges, he said.
"People-to-people contacts at various levels are the lifeblood of our friendship. I am pleased that our two countries have taken important steps in the pursuit of closer cooperation, stronger connectivity and greater commerce," he said.
More than one million Indian tourists who visit the 'Land of Smiles' every year see the indelible imprint of our shared heritage - epitomised by the timeless message of Buddha and the shared lore of the Ramayana, he said.
Terming India and Thailand as natural partners, linked by history, geography and the close contacts between our two peoples, he said his visit, the first at by an Indian Vice President in 50 years, is a manifestation of the desire "we have to deepen the flow of ideas, people to people contacts and bilateral trade between our lands".
Appreciating the Thai government's commitment to imparting greater momentum to the relations between the two countries, he said: "My visit is taking place at a time when our bilateral relations can be described as excellent. We greatly appreciate the role of His Majesty the King in nurturing these relations; just as the idea of Buddhism, though germinating in India, has been nurtured in this land."
He said Thailand is an important pillar of India's 'Act East' policy and a valued partner and New Delhi admires the way Thailand has brought progress to its industrious people by making great strides in socio economic development.
"We are both engaged in transforming our ancient lands in to modern knowledge economies. India is a bright spot with the highest economic growth amongst the larger emerging countries. "There is growing interest from across the world in building partnerships of trade, investment and innovation with India. I would urge the government and business community in Thailand to avail of the opportunities provided by a growing India," he said.
Ansari added that Prayut's scheduled visit to India this year will further enhance this "vibrant and mutually beneficial" cooperation. "Next year, India and ASEAN will mark the 25th anniversary of their Dialogue Relations. We look forward to working with you under the framework of ASEAN. We shall strive to strengthen the India-ASEAN partnership, as also the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation ( BIMSTEC) and Mekong-Ganga Cooperation," he said.