External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Tuesday that Buddhism and the Ramayana are the two things which connect India with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), PTI reported. Swaraj said it was necessary to propagate the “special relationship” between India and Asean among the youth.

Asean is a multilateral organisation with Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam as members.

Addressing the Asean-India Youth Awards ceremony in New Delhi, Swaraj said the cultural bonds between India and the Southeast Asian organisation were “centuries old.” “From the Government of India’s side, we would like to institutionalise the relationship through a permanent mechanism, so that the youth of Asean countries can partake in our cultural and religious ethos and become true ambassadors of India in their countries.”

India’s external affairs minister said that traces of the country’s culture can be found in many places in Asean countries, IANS reported. “Our Dialogue Partnership may be only 25 years old, but our friendship has been for ages.”

A Dialogue Partnership is an arrangement wherein an organisation enjoys a consultative relationship with a country in areas of common interest. However, Swaraj clarified that India cannot be a member of Asean because the organisation is a grouping of Southeast Asian countries only.

Tuesday’s event was a run-up to a commemorative Asean summit which will be hosted by India on Thursday. At the event, 20 youth –10 each from India and the Asean countries – were awarded for their achievements in various disciplines.

Swaraj also urged the youth of India to visit Southeast Asian nations so that they could learn about the Indian cultural influence there.