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Transcript of Media Interaction of External Affairs Minister following 11th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

November 12, 2013

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good afternoon friends and thank you all very much for being here. As you are aware, the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting has just ended, and we have here with us the External Affairs Minister of India Mr. Salman Khurshid who chaired that meeting.

I would request External Affairs Minister to make his opening remarks following which the floor will be open for questions regarding the ASEM meeting. Subsequently if there is time he has agreed to answer a couple of questions on other issues. With that I will request the External Affairs Minister to make his opening remarks on the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

External Affairs Minister (Shri Salman Khurshid):Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. We are coming to you from two days of very successful and very rewarding discussions at the ASEM FMM11. I think the fact that we were able to introduce a new format both in terms of documentation as well as introduction of the Retreat element has been greatly appreciated.

We have just concluded, as I said, this 11th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. This is the first time that Indiahas hosted this. It is a biennial Ministers’ Meeting since we joined in 2007. The first we held this meeting here it was attended by 34 Foreign Ministers. A couple of Foreign Ministers dropped out at the last minute otherwise we had a very good attendance. Thirty-four is an impressive attendance. Eleven Deputy Foreign Ministers or Vice Foreign Ministers from Asia and Europe along with the 34 Foreign Ministers attended which means that in all 51 ASEM members were represented.

We were very lucky to have the Vice President of India Hamid Ansari sahab to inaugurate the ASEM FMM11 yesterday in the morning. Thereafter we had two Plenary sessions followed by the Retreat today. As I said, this is the first time that we have had a Retreat and it allowed for a great deal of candour. It was very interactive and I think that everyone appreciated it.

The overall theme that we had introduced was "ASEM: Bridge to Partnership for Growth and Development.” Development being a major major issue, as you know, in the development round of WTO as well and we, in terms of our national policies, are focused on inclusive development. This was the theme - bridging the two continents together in partnership for growth and development.

We had an interesting opportunity to have discussions on a number of areas of interest to both continents that included the economic and financial issues, sustainable development, non-traditional security challenges and a host of other regional and global issues on which we got a lot of firsthand and important dimensions. We also assessed the achievements of ASEM over the past 17 years of its existence and also looked at the way forward.

During these two days that we have had discussions we have agreed to intensify our efforts for bringing in greater synergy between the Asian and European partners across the three pillars of our engagement being the political dialogue, the economic collaboration and the socio-cultural exchanges that we consider to be extremely important.

As part of the new structure of documentations we have issued a Chair’s Statement which essentially is a summary of our actual discussions that have taken place. It is prepared by the Chair, obviously people assisting the chair and in consultation with ASEM partners. So, it is really a consensual document. We have successfully, therefore, been able to avoid endless text negotiations going late into the night sometimes not being able to agree and then going for less than the best that you could have had. We did not have all that this time and I think that reflects very well on the nature of our engagement.

We have attempted and successfully so breaking away from the declaratory nature of previous ASEM deliberations that we have had. India as the Chair sought to steer the forum from what we call ‘dialogue’ per se to ‘deliverables.’ And I am glad to say that we were successful in this endeavour. The ASEM FMM11 was successful in using the strength of the political dialogue which essentially is something that we inherit to forge tangible cooperation amongst members. And this marks the beginning of what we think will be a very valuable new orientation for future ASEM meetings.

Members agreed that the dynamism of ASEM should find expression in tangible result-oriented initiative - this was our idea add on to ASEM - and this could be utilized to define joint responses by Asia and Europe to global and regional challenges as indeed to seize opportunities for growth and development.

The twelve areas that have been identified by members for this tangible cooperation have been chosen. For each area, multiple countries have been invited and they have expressed their interest in identifying specific initiatives to enhance this cooperation. The areas that we have chosen are sustainable water management, energy efficiency technologies, disaster mitigation and response, vocational and skills training and education and human resource development.

On disaster risk mitigation and management, for obvious reasons this has an urgent priority for collaboration and more so because, as I have indicated, of the destruction and enormous loss of life caused in Philippines. Again we are keeping our fingers crossed on Vietnam. We hope the typhoon Haiyan that has caused the destruction in Philippines will move away from Vietnam, but of course we have to be vigilant.

ASEM Ministers expressed solidarity and support for victims. We felt that ASEM should have capacity to respond with alacrity and urgency to such instances. It was good to see many members spontaneously commit support in response to the specific requirements that the Philippineshave. We have also kept this as a clear indication to Vietnam as well. Vietnamdid get back to us to say that as of now they feel that things will be in control but obviously if there is need we will step in and help Vietnam as well. We have seen immediate results of this signal. There has been support from various countries. They have announced at the meeting itself.

Indiafrom its side proposes and we are in the process of doing this to send immediate relief of supplies to Philippines. An aircraft with relief supplies will depart shortly and is to leave tonight with 15 tonnes of relief material. The material that we are including in the relief package will consist of medicines, hygiene, chemicals, fresh water - as you can see, fresh water is in great demand – water purification material, tents, blankets, mattresses, tarpaulins, ground sheet for shelter, free cooked meals, biscuits, and milk powder, so that the affected persons can be provided immediate relief in terms of medical assistance, treatment, shelter and food.

As a follow up measure, this is what we are able to do immediately, we are considering to send a ship as well with more supplies to the affected areas and that will of course be equipped with more water treatment facilities, additional relief material to provide rehabilitation measures as well as transport to effectively ameliorate the sufferings of those who are affected. This will be done in the very near future.

We have exchanged views at the meeting on ideas of how to revive growth and that remains a major concern across the world, create jobs especially for the youth and to catalyze economic growth. We have discussed non-traditional security threats in detail, particularly terrorism, drug trafficking and transnational crimes. We have exchanged ideas to address food, water and energy security, as well as address the emerging issues of cyber space and the issues related to cyber crime and cyber security which are confronting national governments across the two continents and the rest of the world.

We have endorsed the recommendation by our Senior Officials to set up a Working Group comprising ASEM members and ASEF to devise a Press and Public Awareness Management Strategy for ASEM. We believe that this is something that should not be seen as being a concern only of professionals and diplomats but should become more of a household world and a household idea.

In this context I would like to mention that the joint initiative by India and the Asia Europe Foundation to host the 9th Asia Europe Foundation Journalists’ Colloquium, this should be of interest to you, again in Gurgaon on 11th and 12th of November, 2013. Some of you are here. We will also be co-hosting with ASEF a two-week project in early 2014 on "Sustainable Urbanisation in Heritage Cities” aimed at students and young professionals from ASEM partner countries, and I think those who care for cities like Delhi would have a very special interest in this.

ASEM will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2016. The Ministers have decided, as I said, to set up a Working Group from amongst the ASEM members and ASEF to devise the roadmap for the 20th Anniversary, and this will continue as work in progress until all the way to the 12th ASEM FMM which will meet in Luxembourgin 2015.

The Asia-Europe Foundation, as the only permanent institution of ASEM, is making an important contribution to ASEM processes. We have endorsed the recommendation of Senior Officials that the ASEF Board of Governors and Executive Director partner the effort to bring closer synergy between ASEF activities and ASEM.

We have also discussed Croatia's request for membership of ASEM following its accession to the European Union earlier this year. Ministers have welcomed Croatia as ‘Guest of Chair’ for all ASEM meetings in 2014 till a decision on its membership at ASEM10 Summit in Milan, Italyin the second half of 2014.

The European Union and Italybriefed us on preparations for the 10th ASEM Summit which will take place there in Milanin 2014. Luxembourghas offered to host the 12th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 2015, and we have of course gracefully accepted.

In all, no exaggeration, it was an excellent meeting. I think we have made real progress. We have given voice and visibility to priorities of Asiain ASEM agenda. Growth and development are of interest and relevance to both Asia and Europe. The reform in working methods will allow ASEM members to make more focussed efforts to give form and content to our urgent priorities.

I also had bilateral meetings with many of our visiting ASEM Foreign Ministers on the sidelines including my counterparts from China, Japan, Bangladesh, Romania, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Malta, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Republic of Korea, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Portugal, The Netherlands, and the EU High Representative, nineteen altogether. I hope you think that is a fair amount of work in two days.

Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: The floor is now open for questions. We will first focus on questions on ASEM and then we will move to the others.

Question:I wanted to ask a question on the Philippines. But first on behalf of the Philippinespeople, I would like to thank you for lending your hand to my countrymen. As the ASEM move forward for sustainable development, with the …(Inaudible)… today, what is the possible technology transfer could behalf of the ASEM for the most hardly affected countries of the erratic climate specifically with the disasters?

External Affairs Minister: India has offered, we had some considerable experience now, and we have developed a considerable capacity to not only step in for relief and rehabilitation but also search and recovery operations. We have also shown in recent times our ability to take preventive measures and to take precautionary measures before a natural disaster strikes.

I think that this has been widely appreciated in our country. There are similar efforts that are being undertaken by other countries. India had, at the last ASEAN meeting in Brunei, offered to set up a 24x7 web-based warning and information centre which is now getting ready. I think it is important that all of us share information not only about the possibility of disaster striking and preparing ourselves in advance but also sharing the back up that is available in the entire group of countries so that we can quickly respond to the need for any country in times of disaster.

Japan has again been very very quick off the mark. They have considerable experience in disaster management particularly the kind of national disasters that affect that part of the world which is basically tsunamis, earthquakes, and things of that nature.

We have seen storms and cyclones and typhoons hit the coast both in our part of the world as well as in the United States of America. So, I think shared experiences will be helpful in this. But India is going to be willing. And we feel that we have done our duty immediately in responding to what has happened with Philippines. We will continue in a sustained manner to stand by our friends in Philippines.

Question:Could you please comment on the proposal of the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov who invited ASEM members to St. Petersburg next year to the Inter-Religious Dialogues meeting? Do you accept the invitation and do you and other ASEM members accept the invitation?

External Affairs Minister: I think there are a lot of very important initiatives being taken by a lot of countries and this is an important initiative that Mr. Lavrov and the Russian Government are taking. This is an invitation that we have just received and of course it will come in a formal way as well so that we will be able to study and see what we can add, what we can do by way of response, and what is the content that we can add to the effort that is being made in Russia. This is something that we will process and then we will respond. I think all good ideas, there is a proliferation of ideas now and attempts by countries to find some ways of addressing concerns which are concerns that are of a global nature and all of us are affected in some way or the other. There are very tight schedules now for everything. But I think we should respond to good suggestions of this kind. When the invitation formally arrives, we will be ready to process it.

Question:Terrorist activities with the support of state actors has been one of the major issues that has been plaguing both Asia and Europe.

External Affairs Minister: Non-state actors.

Question: But with the support of states.

External Affairs Minister: Then it is not state actors, then it is just state.

Question:Yes. Did you raise this issue and what was the concrete response? Any joint strategy to combat it?

External Affairs Minister: The concern of terrorism is a very widespread concern and I do not think there is anybody who would to take exception to a general concern that we have to fight the menace of terrorism. There are many manifestations of it. Any form of terrorism has to be counted. I think Russia suggested that while we are looking at terrorism in various fora including in SCO where again we are observers, as well as the United Nations and here, it is important that we keep in mind the drug trafficking as well, because drugs provide a basis for financing of terrorism in many cases. And therefore, clandestine drug trafficking and also other forms of trans-national crime all have to be kept in mind as we concentrate essentially on terrorism.

I think in terms of formulations and in terms of articulation there is consensus and great support across the board on terrorism. But it is important that the words get converted into actual specific actions. We do have now a growing cooperation amongst countries in real-time intelligence sharing, and this is essentially through security dialogues that are done at various levels. But I think the general view is that there is a lot more that can be done to make our fight against terrorism more effective.

Question:In terms of visibility, ASEM appears to always have suffered when compared with other international institutions mainly because it was a forum for political dialogue and nothing else. Could you please elaborate on how you think following this ASEM that concrete actions will be followed by political dialogue?

External Affairs Minister: As I mentioned, political dialogue is the base and this political dialogue and its success has allowed us to look at other dimensions as well. Beyond political dialogue, we just talked about security issues and assistance that we can provide which lead to each other on counterterrorism and fighting against trans-national crime. This is of course something that we can build up. But skills development for instance is a very important item for all our countries because we have growing demographic pictures in which more and more young people are going to be expecting to be in the market place. That is a multi-dimensional engagement that we will do with everybody. But these are the kind of areas on which we would be able to provide specific relief.

Look at what we have been able to do. Because we were here together we were able to respond quickly to what has happened in Philippines. But post facto assistance in terms of help that you can give to anyone of your colleagues is different from essentially being prepared in advance of such disasters hitting any one of us. And this is the kind of specific cooperation and collaboration that we will be able now, I think, to proceed with. We have agreed that in the intersession period our SOMs will continue to meet. So, all these areas would be emphasised and we will be able to work on them.

Question:In your opening speech you spoke about broadening the canvas of ASEM to include civil society, academia and media, and to make ASEM more people centric. What specific steps were agreed at this ASEM to make this intercontinental forum more people centric?

External Affairs Minister: Instinctively I can tell you what can be done but now that we have set up a Working Group specifically for this I should not prejudge or preclude anything that they would want to explore. But I think that in most of our multilateral engagements that we do, either in the SAARC region or in the ASEAN region or indeed we do in the Indian Ocean region, there are specific ways in which you make what you are doing more real time, relevant to people for whom you are doing it in the first place.

If academics meet more often, if civil society people meet amongst themselves, engage amongst themselves, if media experts and media representatives meet and share thoughts and ideas about each other, there will be a sense of ownership amongst ordinary people. We are really looking at these regions facilitating greater exchange not just of ideas but also of people and of products. This is how we would be examining it. Of course there are others. When we talk about climate we do it on a different platform and when we talk about trade and services we do it on a different platform. There are both multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral arrangements now on any of these and most of these fields. But the substance of that is that there are specific contexts in which they should be pushed. And I think there is a special context of dialogue between Europe and ourselves.

What we do in ASEAN, or what we do in SAARC, or what we do in the Indian Ocean has one particular kind of context which is very valuable, very important. But what we do in a dialogue context with Europe, I think adds an additional dimension.

Question:I am interested in the emerging threat of cyber security you were talking about. Can you tell me where do you see or where does ASEM see these threats emerging? What is the nature of these cyber security threats and what is going to be done about it? Is it a matter of increasing cooperation between agencies in different countries or how do you propose to do something about it?

External Affairs Minister: The truth is that we have a lot of work to do on that. We know what the irksome and the dangerous elements of cyber space are. There are some people who very legitimately and I think very rightly mention the concern about how cyber space is used for trafficking of children and women. Cyber space is used for unwholesome ideas that will influence tender minds. This is a very very serious concern. There are people who are concerned more specifically about security. I think when you consider issues of security, espionage, using cyber space to inject ideas that are unwholesome for any society. So, we know exactly what are the areas that are dangerous, irksome, or that need to be addressed.

But issues about what structure of governance, and how we democratise the cyber space and structures of governance are compatible with expectations of civil society and democratic institutions in our respective countries, does still require considerable thought to go into. There are attempts being made at the level of the UN which is the largest democratic gathering of countries in the world. Some people think that they must have a greater say and a greater contribution in our moving forward on what to do with cyber space and to provide legitimate governance, not control but governance, of cyber space.

But I think there are many many views on it and I would not want to prejudge anything. It has been flagged for important attention and I expect that that important attention will unfold itself in the months to come.

Question:I have a specific question. Did you have a bilateral talk with Japanese Foreign Minister and was an agreement reached on India-Japan war games in the end of the year or maybe next year?

External Affairs Minister: Those are discussions that were happening as we were talking here. Those discussions were continuing with the Finance Ministry. If there was an occasion and they have been able to complete those discussions, we might have used this as an opportunity for putting our signature on the agreement. But since that matter is really in the mandate of the Finance Ministry and discussions were continuing while we were here, I cannot report to you as to the latest position on that. But I think that there is a meaningful discussions going on and if they are able to conclude that discussion then they would obviously have a signature at the Finance Ministry.

Question:I would like to know if the issue of maritime security was discussed in the conference following the incident of the two Italian marines in Kerala. What is your assessment about the recent development in the investigation?

External Affairs Minister: There are a couple of aspects. The maritime security was discussed from different points of view but there is convergence among I think of all countries including China, Russia, Japan, European countries - Italy, India and countries around the Indian Ocean rim. There was unanimity on the need to provide maritime security. In that context the issue also of what to do with initiatives that countries have taken about providing armed protection on ships and how that is to be dealt with in the backdrop, of course, of the unfortunate incident in which Italian marines got involved which is still a matter sub judice and in courts of law in our country. Our view is that we must of course find solution that ambiguity of this nature does not affect any future deployment either in terms of ships or individual security personnel. I think that, in a sense these incidents provide greater impetus to find clarity.

As far as the incident itself is concerned, I am very happy that we have been able to move forward, that the stalemate about the investigation being completed, those stalemates have been settled by appropriate opinions had from law officers, and the agencies that are investigating can now move forward, complete the investigation and then go to the stage at which the courts can finally dispose of the matter. We are all desirous of and interested in ensuring that the matter is concluded as expeditiously as possible, of course within the parameters of the law which are to be applied by the courts of the land.

I hope that the delay that was being caused because of the ambiguity on investigation procedures having been addressed, people will feel a greater sense of comfort and confidence.

Question: Sir, a day after meeting Sartaj Aziz, Syed Ali Shah Geelani was seen endorsing armed struggle and militancy in Kashmir. How would you react to that and the fact that the first engagement of Mr. Sartaj Aziz after landing in India for ASEM was meeting Kashmiri separatists?

External Affairs Minister: I must say that it is important that what we say and what we do we have to carefully watch. I do not want to give virtuous advice to any senior colleague from across the border, but if there is seriousness in wanting to communicate and have a meaningful dialogue with India for sustainable peace, it will be I think necessary to respect India’s point of view, India’s sentiments and sensitivities of our country because this is not a dialogue that happens in isolation. This is a dialogue that is contextual, this is a dialogue that needs public support.

We think that we have done a great deal to help the Pakistan Government get the public support that it needs to be able to have a fair and transparent dialogue with India. But there are events in recent times that are not seen by us or indeed by anybody in Indiaas encouraging events. I think they are counterproductive and I would imagine that if there is seriousness in the desire to reach some kind of a situation in which a dialogue meaningfully can take place, whatever be the end result of that dialogue, I think that is too early to predict but a meaningful dialogue can take place, I think conducive circumstances have to be created and it will have to be done by both sides. It cannot be only on one side. Some of these events have been somewhat counterproductive unfortunately.

Question:Mr. Khurshid, you have been at the ASEM conference and many of the people of the ASEM conference are also going to go out to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet there in Colombo. The question I wanted to ask you was that the British Foreign Secretary, when asked about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision not to go to the Commonwealth, has said ‘that a boycott would damage the Commonwealth without producing positive results for Sri Lanka’. I would like to ask you your response to that. Is that the kind of disappointment others have expressed as well? Also can you confirm that you will in fact be going to Colombo for the Commonwealth because today we have seen the demand coming from parties in Tamil Nadu that you should not visit as well?

External Affairs Minister: As far as I understand, the position that we have taken is that it is not boycott if I am going. The Prime Minister has taken a considered call, and as you can see, he factored in a lot of issues including the importance of his presence in the country at this time. We are after all facing five elections. There was also a very strong sentiment expressed by our colleagues in Parliament from Tamil Nadu as indeed there was a sentiment that at least was expressed in some formal way by the Assembly. I think everything must have been factored in and after that a decision was taken.

I am going and the Foreign Secretary will be with me and I would be there for the entire period of the Commonwealth conference. This is not the first time that India is represented or other countries for that matter are represented at levels other than the level of the Head of Government. Also, the fact that the Prime Minister is not going does not foreclose any legitimate position that we would take in the multilateral fora. We are not going for a bilateral visit, we are going for a multilateral visit. And within the framework of multilateral work that we do at the Commonwealth, we will have the same opportunity and would take the same opportunity as any other country would.

I think we should be careful. Very short, crisp statements and sentences can be read inaccurately. I must be very clear that I am proud that India’s participation in advocacy for elections in the Northern and Eastern Provinceshas come to fruition successfully, that in the Northern Province there is now an elected government headed by a Chief Minister. I understand the Chief Minister was given the oath in Colomboby the President. The Chief Minister, I believe, will also be present at the opening ceremony of the CHOGM.

We have a huge, huge commitment and investment for rehabilitation in the Northern Province and of course in the Eastern Province. We are doing 50,000 houses, the largest such project anywhere in the world. We are building infrastructure, we are doing roads, we are doing railways, we are doing also for Sri Lanka other major projects like the Sampur power plant.

Let us not forget that there is a major two-way investment between Sri Lanka and India, and that there is two-way traffic of tourists between the two countries. I think that that is a lot that is to be said of a relationship between our two countries, and it cannot be held hostage to something in which we believe we have still a lot more work to do in terms of the expectations of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.

Official Spokesperson: I do understand several of you would like to ask questions but the Minister has another appointment to keep. So, with that we conclude this event. Thank you.


November 12, 2013

Click here for the video of this Media Interaction


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