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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary and Secretary (East) on Prime Minister’s forthcoming visits to Japan and Thailand

May 24, 2013

Official Spokesperson (Syed Akbaruddin): Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. You will recollect that on the 14th of May we had made an announcement of Prime Minister’s visits to Japan and Thailand from 27th to 31st. This evening’s briefing will be focused on those two visits.

I have here with me Foreign Secretary who will brief you about the elements relating to Prime Minister’s visit to Japan. I would also like to introduce to you Mr. Ashok Kantha who has today taken over as Secretary (East). He has just come back from Sri Lanka. Along with him on Foreign Secretary’s right is the familiar figure of Mr. Gautam Bambawale, Joint Secretary (East Asia), who has been with you for the last week. To his right is Mr. Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Joint Secretary (South), who also handles Thailand.

With those brief introductory remarks I will request Foreign Secretary to make his opening remarks following which we will also have Secretary (East) Mr. Ashok Kantha make his opening remarks, and then the floor will be open to questions to both of them. Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary (Shri Ranjan Mathai): Thank you, Akbar.

It is good to have Ashok join the Ministry as Secretary (East). He arrived late last night. How late was it?

Secretary (East) (Shri Ashok K. Kantha): It was 3 o’clock.

Foreign Secretary: It was 3 o’clock in the morning and as soon as he arrived in the Ministry he was told he has to face the media, which shows how seriously we take you and how important we regard our interaction with you.

The Prime Minister, as you have already been told, will visit Japan from May 27 to 30 - 27th he leaves and 30th he leaves Japan. This is the postponed annual summit between the Prime Minister’s of India and Japan which was originally scheduled for the end of last year. PM’s delegation will include the National Security Advisor, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and other senior officials. Prime Minister arrives in Tokyo late evening of Monday, May 27.

The broad outlines of his programme include an address at a business meeting hosted by Kaidanren, the premier chamber of commerce and industry of Japan, in the afternoon of May 28. He will then address a gathering which is jointly organised by the Japan-India Association, Japan-India Parliamentary Friendship League, and the Friendship Exchange Council, in the evening of May 28. The Japanese Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe will host a private dinner for Prime Minister and Mrs. Kaur also in the evening of May 28.

There will also be calls on Prime Minister by senior Ministers in the Abe Cabinet as well as leaders of the main political parties. The Prime Minister and Mrs. Kaur will call on Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan, who will host a luncheon for them on May 29. And then the annual summit between the two Prime Ministers will take place in the evening of May 29.

The two Prime Ministers will take stock of the India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership, and will also discuss how to further strengthen it. This is the first occasion for the two Prime Ministers to meet after the December 2012 general elections in which Japan saw Prime Minister Abe and his party win office. The two Prime Ministers will discuss all issues in the bilateral relationship including political exchanges, high-level visits, the economic interaction, our defence cooperation and people-to-people ties.

As you are aware, our economic relationship is one of the drivers of the overall bilateral relations. The two Prime Ministers will obviously discuss all major projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, and the infrastructure upgradation process in the Chennai-Bangalore corridor. The Government of Japan is keen to showcase its high-speed rail technology or Shinkansen, which they would like us to consider. This is a subject which will be discussed.

At his address to Japanese business, Prime Minister will highlight major investment opportunities in India and seek greater Japanese private sector investments. We see very good prospects for increasing Japanese investment in India.

Energy cooperation is another area of promise in the bilateral relationship. Japan will organise a major exhibition of energy efficient and green technologies in Delhi later this year. As you are aware, we have a regular dialogue on energy between the two governments. Of interest though it is at a very early stage, Japan has recently made a breakthrough in the frozen seabed gas hydrates and their exploitation, which is of great interest to us. The two countries are already cooperating on a joint study on LNG pricing.

The two leaders will also discuss regional and international issues. Our cooperation in the field of security will be one of the subjects covered. As is normal in such visits, the two leaders will issue a joint statement which will capture the essence of their discussions and chart a vision for the India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership over the coming years.

Thank you.

Secretary (East): Thanks Ranjan.

Prime Minister after his visit to Japan will pay an official visit to Thailand on 30-31 May at the invitation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. You remember that the Prime Minister of Thailand had visited India as the Chief Guest at our Republic Day in January last year and she came again for India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in December 2012.

During his visit to Bangkok, Prime Minister will have official talks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest. We expect a number of documents to be signed and announcements to be made on new initiatives.

As you are aware, we have very close, friendly and growing relations between India and Thailand, and Thailand is also an important component of our Look East Policy. There has been a sustained interaction at the high level which has added dynamism to bilateral relations which are multifaceted and growing. Following the visit of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in January 2012 when we had signed a number of agreements on security, defence, trade and cultural cooperation, we have covered ground to achieve progress in key areas such as security cooperation, economic relations and connectivity. Later this year we are also planning on the visits of Raksha Mantri and Minister of External Affairs to Thailand which also shows the desire on the part of both countries the momentum in our relationship.

We have made rapid strides in strengthening defence, security and juridical cooperation. We have signed an MLAT in criminal matters, and an agreement on transfer of sentenced persons, and we are now close to signing an extradition treaty with Thailand. We have strengthened cooperation between law enforcement agencies, particularly in counterterrorism and transnational crimes. In defence we have a broad-based engagement which includes training, joint exercises, anti-piracy operations, maintenance of security of sea lanes, and exchange of visits.

Likewise, our trade and investment relations are growing especially after conclusion of the framework agreement FTA of 2003 and early harvest in 2004. We seek a comprehensive and balanced outcome of the FTA negotiations. Trade reached the level of US$ 9.2 billion in 2012-13 and there has also been a fairly impressive growth in two-way investment flows between our two countries.

India and Thailand have been working to promote connectivity between the two countries and also in the region through cooperation and development of road and shipping infrastructure. Enhanced connectivity will greatly benefit our Northeastern region in particular. India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project has made good progress and is expected to be completed by 2016.

The newly constituted Joint Working Group on Connectivity and Infrastructure has focused on initiatives in third countries including exploring possibilities for cooperation in Dawei project in Myanmar and connectivity to Lao and Cambodia. Bilaterally we have excellent civil aviation connectivity with 138 flights per week. And last year as many as 1.16 million Indian tourists visited Thailand.

We are also seeking to expand cooperation in science and technology including in areas like ICT, space applications, and R&D cooperation.

Our cultural ties played an important role in deepening civilisational and historical bonds. Indian Cultural Centre in Bangkok and Chairs of Sanskrit studies and Indian studies in different Thai universities have brought our people closer. ICCR and ITEC scholarships have promoted exchanges and earned the appreciation of the Thai people. We greatly appreciate the contribution of the Thai Government and the Thai private sector towards establishment of Nalanda University as an international institute of excellence. In recognition of the major role played by Budhism, we are planning a major Budhist art exhibition in Bangkok which will be coordinated by the Indian Museum in Kolkata.

We have been working together on regional and multilateral issues. We have a strategic partnership, as you know, in ASEAN and have close cooperation in ARF, EAS, BIMSTEC, MGC, as well as multilateral fora such as the UN. The visit of Prime Minister to Thailand is expected to consolidate our partnership and provide new direction in future cooperation.

Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: We will now throw the floor open for questions. We will try and take questions first on the issues that have been now covered, that is Japan and Thailand. And at the end of it if we have time, Foreign Secretary has agreed to respond to a couple of questions on issues other than this. Let us begin with this.

Question: Sir, you talked about defence cooperation between India and Japan. Can you give us an update of what is going on right now between the two countries?

Foreign Secretary: We have a regular dialogue with Japan and we engage in exercises together. Japan is the only country with whom we have institutionalized what is called the 2+2, which is the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary from India and their counterparts in Japan. We have a series of activities which go on between our Services and their counterparts in Japan.

I will ask the Joint Secretary to add a little bit to this.

Joint Secretary (East Asia) (Shri Gautam Bambawale): As you probably know, the first ever bilateral naval exercises between India and Japan took place off the coast of Japan in June of 2012. So, that was a major step that we took forward. This year there has been a series of exchanges between the armed forces of India and Japan. Our Chief of Army Staff was in Japan earlier this year in end of March. Similarly we have had the Chief of the Japanese Self Defence Forces here in India a few weeks ago. That is an update on some of our defence cooperation activities.

Foreign Secretary: I would also add to this that there is a regular dialogue between Raksha Mantri and his Japanese counterpart, just as there is a strategic dialogue also between the two Foreign Ministers.

Question: Sir, you referred to the energy cooperation that is going to be talked about in Japan. In that respect you spoke of energy efficiency as well as the green technology. Are we going to discuss civilian nuclear cooperation with Japan especially from the point of view of safety? Is this subject going to be discussed?

Foreign Secretary: Certainly. In fact I should have brought in the question of the civil nuclear cooperation. This has been under discussion between India and Japan and there are various aspects to it including certainly discussions on safety. As you are aware, in the post-Fukushima period that is in fact the main focus of much of our dialogues with many countries. But with Japan we also have discussions regarding industrial collaboration in terms of power production through the civil nuclear energy route. These are at a very preliminary stage. We will first need to reach an agreement. We are hopeful of making progress later in the year on this. This is a matter on which we have had discussions over a long period of time.

It is also well-known that in Japan the Japan Steel Works produces reactor vessels which are an important component in the activities which we undertake with other partners also because that is a very specialized technology which Japan has. So, certainly yes, this is one area which we will be discussing. But, as I said, we have been discussing specifically civil nuclear cooperation agreement and we will continue those discussions, and we hope to make by the end of this year more progress in this field.

Question: Foreign Secretary, in what way the India-Japan economic cooperation is helping us particularly in the corridor projects implemented in Chennai and Mumbai? Secondly, since Mr. Ashok Kantha has come to Delhi Sri Lanka is missing a High Commissioner there. Who is going to replace him?

Foreign Secretary: The specifics which we are talking about are these very major infrastructure development programmes. The DMIC is really one of the biggest anywhere in the world if you look at it in terms of its ambition. Japan has already announced 4.5 billion dollars, as you know, when Prime Minister Noda came here in December 2011 to this. And I think by this year we have already reached an outline of at least ten specific projects under that 4.5 billion dollar grant from the Japanese. The Chennai-Bangalore corridor is a more recent development in terms of how we started discussing it. But as you are aware, there is a very large number of Japanese industries both in Chennai and in the Bangalore region. So, there is a desire to upgrade infrastructure and provide a basis for further investments into that region. There is a lot interest also in port development, the development of Ennore Port, the development of infrastructure around it. These are some of the ideas which are under discussion with Japan.

And in answer to your second question, even though it is not technically related, Mr. Yash Sinha will be our High Commissioner. He would be there in a few weeks.

Question: I think both Japan and Thailand were interested in Nalanda University, but Nalanda University is stuck somewhere somehow. What future do you see for the Nalanda University after these visits?

Foreign Secretary: Let me request you to go to the National Gallery of Modern Art where there is an exhibition of the design competition for the Nalanda University. It is really well worth a visit. You will see the winning award. The jury has already met and decided on it. It is already at a stage where the new campus is being designed. So, I do not think it can be described as stuck.

Question: Foreign Secretary, has India been given a briefing by Japan on the status of Senkaku islands and what is expected of India?

Foreign Secretary: When you say a briefing, these are subjects which are discussed from time to time. When we discussed regional security and regional issues, certainly the Japanese did bring this up. Even at the end of last year when I had gone for the 2+2, which I mentioned, there was a discussion regarding these security-related issues. So, this will continue.

Question: Regarding the tension in the Korean Peninsula, do you see India and Japan position as more converged on a common stand on the tension in that region?

Foreign Secretary: I do not think there is a specific convergence as such but there is a convergence in the principle that we would like to see peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula which is vital for the entire region of East Asia. We have had discussions with the Japanese, as I said, on this in the framework of our dialogues on a regular basis. But we also have dialogues with other countries in regard to that. In fact Mr. Bambawale has held a dialogue in North Korea some months ago.

Question: A question about security cooperation. Are there likely to be new exercises, naval or otherwise, agreed upon on this trip? And is it true that India pulled out of a trilateral exercise recently? And if so, why?

Foreign Secretary: India did not pull out of a trilateral exercise. There was some planning between India and the USA for an exercise and at some stage it was felt that this could be converted into a trilateral exercise. That did not quite work out. But what we have done is invite Japan to hold exercises in the Indian Ocean and now to institutionalize them because what we were told is that they need to have a fixed programme that they can work on so that they know when we are planning our exercises together. So, we are going to institutionalize the regular exercises between the Indian and Japanese navies.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Foreign Secretary: It has been under discussion, certainly will be one of the outcomes.

Question: Sir, on the same subject, there is an impression that India is showing reluctance to hold trilateral exercises in the seas around Japan, while it is happy to hold these trilateral exercises in the Indian Ocean region. Is the full extent of the potential of defence ties with Japan circumscribed at some level by the fear of offending China?

Foreign Secretary: I think whatever we do with Japan is intended purely to develop our bilateral defence cooperation and it is certainly not aimed at anyone else. I do not think we are circumscribed in that way. As I said, we would like to place emphasis on having exercises on a very regular basis and institutionalizing them.

Question: Mr. Mathai, is post US withdrawal Afghanistan also likely to feature in your talks given the security talks that you are going to be having with Japan?

Foreign Secretary: Certainly, when we discuss issues in the region Afghanistan will be one of the subjects we talked to Japan. This has in fact been on the agenda of our bilateral discussions for a considerable period of time. We have in fact talked about doing projects jointly with Japan and the United States in the economic field in Afghanistan. Japan was one of the countries we were very keen to have as an investor in Afghanistan when we convened the investors meet in June of last year. So, certainly, yes we would continue our discussions with Japan on Afghanistan.

Question: Foreign Secretary, about the civilian nuclear agreement between Japan and India you just mentioned you expect by the end of the year more progress. Does it mean you want to see it signed by the end of the year?

Foreign Secretary: Agreements always take a certain amount of time. What I am saying is that the discussions have been given some impetus recently but there are a number of stages we will have to go through before we reach the signature. I cannot put a date on it but we would certainly like to progress.

Question: This is about the civil nuclear cooperation agreement again. Has India raised issues about nuclear safety during these discussions? What kind of concerns has it raised and what has been Japan’s response?

Foreign Secretary: Safety, as I mentioned earlier, is one of the issues which we always discuss whenever we have discussions on civil nuclear cooperation with any country. And in the present atmosphere safety is in fact probably a very very high priority in our bilateral cooperation with any country. Certainly with the Japanese we will be discussing this at great length.

Question: Ashok, good to see you here. It is nice to know that India is planning to have an exhibition on Budhism in Bangkok. I was in the Indian Museum a few months ago and I saw several vacant places and it said, ‘Sent to South Korea for an exhibition’, ‘Sent to some country in South America’. These exhibitions got over many many months ago, in fact two years ago but the statues have not come back. Is somebody keeping tabs on things like this here?

Secretary (East): I cannot possibly comment on that but you have exchange of exhibits as part of such activities. In this particular case we are looking at Indian Museum in Kolkata working with the National Museum in Bangkok to set up an important exhibition of Budhist art because, as you know, Budhism is a very important bond between India and Thailand.

Question: This is for Ashok, Sir. Sir, will you tell us about our ties with Thailand in terms of transport linkages that we are planning, both sea and surface?

Secretary (East): We have a good connectivity between India and Thailand when it comes to civil aviation, something like 138 flights a week. We are also looking at Thailand as an important bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asian hinterland. Here there is already, as I mentioned earlier, the trilateral project involving India, Myanmar and Thailand which is making good headway and we expect completion by 2016. In addition, we announced this initiative on Joint Working Group on Connectivity and Infrastructure which had its first meeting in September 2012. Under that we are looking at possibilities of cooperation with third countries including cooperation on Dawei deep sea port and a special economic zone in Dawei, as also projects in Lao and Cambodia. So, there are a number of ideas which are being explored. Trilateral project has already made headway and we expect good progress on other projects as well in the days to come.

Question: Japanese Emperor is planning to visit India. Do you expect the timing will be announced during the Prime Minister’s visit?

Foreign Secretary: I do not think it is linked to the Prime Minister’s visit. We are looking forward to the great honour of receiving Their Majesties the Emperor and the Empress. The visit will be announced as soon as both Governments agree on a date on which we will announce it.

Question: Sir, our Commerce Minister was visiting Japan a few weeks ago and he raised the issue of rising trade deficit after the FTA talks have begun. How is India going to take this issue up during these summit-level talks?

Foreign Secretary: Over the last few years India-Japan trade has increased very substantially except I believe in the financial year we saw some decline. The CEPA, as it is called not the FTA, has been under implementation since August 2011. And in 2011-12, bilateral trade grew by 29 per cent to reach a figure of 18.5 billion. It came down to 17.5 billion as I said.

Yes, there is a fact that the trade is not exactly balanced, it is in fact very substantially in Japan’s favour. We would be taking up issues relating to market access for some of those sectors where India has competitive advantage. We would be emphasizing also certain nontariff barriers which have arisen in the case of our shrimp exports. Certainly we would like to revive some traditional exports of India to Japan which have tapered off in the last few years, for example iron ore. So, there is a range of measures we need to take on our side to address this trade imbalance and we will be raising this with the Chinese.

Question: Sir, China has signed a pact with Pakistan on a rail link from Gwadar to China. Your comments please!

Foreign Secretary: Developments in other countries which are between two countries is not a matter for me to comment on. But to the extent that it involves Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, we certainly have already made our views known to the Chinese leadership at the highest level. We have serious reservations about this.

Question: Sir, the Iranian Energy Minister is coming in a couple of days’ time and there is a talk of energy cooperation enhancement. Your comments on that!

Foreign Secretary: Iran has been a traditional partner of India in the field of energy, very specifically in the field of oil. We have been having a supplier-buyer relationship for many many decades, and some of our refineries are in fact geared specifically to Iranian crude. But we are all aware that due to a variety of problems in the field of banking, in the field of shipping, in the field of insurance, the actual off-take by our refineries has gone down. So, this is one of those issues which we will certainly discuss.

But we will also take the opportunity to discuss the prospects for India and Iran to work together in the field of natural gas, in the field of fertilizers and other developments broadly in the hydrocarbons sector. These will take some time to actually come to fruition because, as I said, there are a number of technical, financial, banking and other problems which come in the way of actually implementing things now. But we are hopeful that once all these problems get sorted out, our relationship will be a strong one in the field of hydrocarbons. But, as I said, right now we have considerable difficulties in implementing many of the projects which we wanted to do together.

Question: Sir, you had a meeting with Ms. Wendy Sherman today. Can you please throw some light on that?

Foreign Secretary: This was part of the regular consultations which India and the United States engage in. When I went to Washington in February I had a long session with Ms. Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the US State Department. The subjects we discussed are the preparations for the visit of the Secretary of State which is planned for 24th of June for what is called the strategic dialogue - I do not know if we have made a formal announcement of the date yet but anyway that is now impending on us - and also the ongoing dialogue on regional issues which we regularly have. These were the two broad features of our discussions.

Question: Did you discuss Shale gas exports from US to India?

Foreign Secretary: On this occasion I did not. I did bring it up when I was in Washington in February not only with the State Department but also with the Department of Energy. And I would like to say that you may have read in the press that Freeport, that particular project has been approved. Now that is not one from which we will be sourcing LNG. But the arrival of new sources of LNG on to the global market will certainly be a very positive development.

Question: Mr. Mathai, I wanted to ask you about China. What would you say was the main takeaway from the Chinese Premier’s visit here for us?

Foreign Secretary: I think we have done extensive briefing on this. Our Ambassador, I think gave you more than one takeaway, in fact a number of takeaways. So, I would not like to expand on it. Just to say that I think it underlined the extensive nature of our relationship, the maturity of that relationship, and also the need for regular dialogue which China in an atmosphere of candour and of constructive approach.

Question: Sir, there is talk of the Prime Minister visiting the US later this year. Would you kindly confirm if that is correct? And is this to revive the drift that has seeped into the relationship?

Foreign Secretary: Since there isn’t any drift, I do not see how we can either revive it or deal with it. There have been discussions regarding a visit. As soon as those reach a stage of finality, we will make an announcement.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction.


New Delhi
May 24, 2013

For video of this media interaction, please visit:
Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary and Secretary (East) (May 24, 2013)

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