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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on visit of Prime Minister of Bangladesh to India (April 08, 2017)

April 08, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Namashkar. Good afternoon to everyone. As you know there is the ongoing visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, we have had discussions and meetings between the two Prime Ministers as you are aware.

To brief you on that we have with us Foreign Secretary, our High Commissioner in Dhaka and of course Jt. Secretary, Bangladesh and Myanmar. I would request Foreign Secretary to make a few opening remarks and then we will have questions from the floor.

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: Thank you and good afternoon. This briefing is actually taking place when the visit is still in progress so please bear with me that I’d largely focus on what is already happened.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh arrived yesterday on a visit, and yesterday the External Affairs Minister called on her as is customary and this morning she had the ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan and then she had talks with the Prime Minister followed by a lunch.

We have just come from a very moving ceremony which was held at the Manekshaw Centre where the Bangladesh Prime Minister honored seven Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Bangladesh war.

What I would like to do is very briefly run you through the key developments and outcomes. I’ll be happy to take questions after that.

Before I actually get to the specifics let me just highlight that in many ways for India this is an exceptional relationship and in fact we were just cleaning up the joint statement which should be out very soon, I think the word which we have used there is Fraternal Friendship. I say this is a very unique relationship as all of you are familiar with the history of this relationship, with the close bonds that we have with Bangladesh and also appreciative of the progress that we have made in recent years in many ways.

I want to set this relationship itself in a context, in this government we have spoken of Neighborhood First policy which is a expression used to underline the priority and importance we give to neighboring country relationships, but I think if there is one example of where the Neighborhood First has actually yielded good results on both sides it is the case with Bangladesh.

We approach this relationship in many ways and this is the point which Prime Minister just made in the speech from the ceremony that I’m coming from that today India feels that our progress and prosperity should be shared with our neighbours, and it is that sense of common purpose, of shared purpose which actually drives are our relationship with the immediate neighborhood. In the case of Bangladesh there are some very unique factors, a lot of it from the location and some of it from the history.

Now as I mentioned to you about the ceremony which was held at the Manekshaw Centre. Earlier today after the conclusion of the talks and at the time when Prime Ministers were making the press statement, you would have seen that our Prime Minister along with his Bangladesh counterpart released the Hindi translation of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s unfinished memoirs. They also unveiled the naming of a street in his honour. What was Park Street today would Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Street.

I think these and many of you would have noted yesterday that Prime Minister went well beyond protocol requirements in personally receiving the Bangladesh Prime Minister at the airport. I think all these in many ways testify to the point that I’m making about it being a very special relationship.

In terms of the talks today there was a one-on-one between the two Prime Ministers followed by delegation level talks, together they were about an hour and a half and then they had lunch together. A lot of fit obviously went into assessing where the bilateral relationship is at this time and I think both of them were very satisfied with the progress that we’ve made and you will find that expressed when you see the outcome document where we are really, genuinely appreciative of the social and economic development in Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena’s leadership.

We also are very admiring of the consistent efforts to combat terrorism and I think I again I would urge you to look at Prime Minister’s speech at the Manekshaw Centre event where he spoke on both these issues at some length.

Now essentially in this visit we have concluded 22 agreements covering a number of spheres. In the area of development cooperation and trade we have nine agreements, in high-technology and science & technology, space, nuclear we have four agreements. There are five defence agreements as well as some agreements pertaining to people to people contacts, media etc.

More than the agreements themselves we have taken some very practical concrete steps and gestures which take the relationship forward. Again some of it was covered in the Prime Minister’s press statement, some of it was covered in his Manekshaw Centre’s speech. We announced measures which specifically are focused on the welfare of Muktijoddhas in Bangladesh, easier five-year visas for them, greater support, educational opportunities for their children.

In terms of some of the people to people measures, we have used the opportunity of the visit to make medical visas more liberal for Bangladeshis. In the past they could come for treatment but not for diagnosis, so we sort of liberalized that. We made it easier for movement of Bangladeshis in terms of port people who come on ships and also from inland waterways.

So the issues like through which port they enter, they don’t have to go back by the same port. Overall the visa situation has been liberalized greatly and the High Commissioner actually deserves a lot of credit for the fact that today we essentially have a walk-in situation in Bangladesh as far as visa is concerned which was not the case earlier.

Some of the other developments, I think you would have seen in terms of the flagging off of the two trains today and a bus. The Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka bus as well as Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka train link, and also there was a rake which was carrying fuel to Paradip port. So again this both underlines the movement between India and Bangladesh as well as the connectivity, the economic content of that.

We were very appreciative that the Chief Minister of West Bengal was gracious enough to join today in the flagging off’s as well as for the lunch which the Prime Minster hosted for his Bangladeshi counterpart.

In addition to these we have used this occasion to expand a lot of scholarships and training that we do with Bangladesh. In the past we have trained Bangladeshi civil servants, almost 1500, I think roughly about 1200 have been done. We are now looking at the possibility of training judicial officials as well. We found that the training that we have done in the past, the training of DCs of Bangladesh in India that this has been actually a very good mechanism to build closer cooperation between the two countries.

Now other than the agreements and the training, connectivity issues that I mentioned, I want to draw your particular attention to the lines of credit that we have announced. We had earlier two lines of credit to Bangladesh, the first one for US $ 862 million, the second for US $ 2 billion which was when our PM had gone to Dhaka.

The first one, the projects are coming along, as to the second one the work has been done so that the projects have been identified and actually progressed to various levels. This time around the line of credit is for the amount of US $ 4.5 billion. It is the largest or perhaps among the largest lines of credit we’ve done for a single country on a bilateral occasion.

In many ways since there is today a lot of emphasis on faster delivery of projects by MEA what we have done is already started to identify projects which both sides can state would be the ones will do under the third LoC and they are really quite an impressive list. They include two ports, multipurpose terminal as well as the Tri-dock in Chittagong and also includes the up-gradation of Mangala port, actually three of them, four laning of many roads, up-gradation of an airport, new transmission lines, new railway lines. So a lot of new infrastructure commitments that we are taking to Bangladesh. These are 17 projects which have been identified as utilizing the third LOC.

Again the message of that is really that India has very positive, very effective development assistance program. It’s in our interest that connectivity, infrastructure at the border, beyond the border in our neighboring countries grow. I think these are really true win-win situations for us.

Some of the non-economic, non-development issues which did come up for discussion in broad terms were issues related obviously to the region. As you know Bangladesh has also been facing the challenge of terrorism that is something which found mention in different ways both publicly and in the discussions. You will see in the joint statement that we have really very strong common positions on it. So overall I would sum it up as a really an exceptionally strong visit, of course still in the making.

Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena would be meeting the Vice President immediately after my briefing and would be calling on the President tomorrow. She also has a business meet on the 10th and again I should tell you that we expect a lot of business agreements actually running to billions of dollars to be concluded during the visit. And we see that today as reflecting the climate of confidence which Indian businesses responding to in Bangladesh which wasn’t always the situation in the past.

So as I said, a very good visit, a very strong visit still in the making. In many ways the chemistry between the leaders was very visible on the television screen and on the platforms that they shared. A very strong meeting of minds and a very robust agenda of where we are going. I think we have a lot on our plate and clearly both of us attach an enormous amount of importance to this visit in terms of really creating an agenda which takes the relationship to a new level. So once again thank you very much.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Thank you very much. The floor is now open to questions.

Question: One of the major takeaway from this visit is up gradation of defence relations. This a probably the first time India has given the defence focus line of credit to a neighboring country. Could you just give details of the strategy which has been envisaged in this?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:
We actually have five agreements in defence. One is a framework cooperation agreement, one is a defence line of credit for the amount of $ 500 million, two of them are related to exchanges relating to the NDC and the Defence Services Staff College and the fifth one is the Coast Guard one.

I think it’s an interesting question that you raised because the actually if you look at it, on the ground and in the waters and in the sky we actually have fairly extensive defence cooperation with Bangladesh. We’ve, just for example, had the Army Chief come back from a visit. The Defence Minister was there a few months ago and we’ve had and I have seen in the last two years a number of Bangladeshi service commanders visit us.

For some reason we haven’t actually disciplined it into a framework and to my mind it was actually a lacuna waiting to be corrected because if you see our relationship with all the other neighbours like Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar even Afghanistan, with all these countries we do have defence contacts, even with China, we have a defence framework agreement, we have a defence cooperation agreement.

Obviously you will have an LOC only with countries with whom you expect to do procurement but again we have it with a lot of our other neighbours. So to my mind this was something, frankly, which was going to happen at some point of time. Clearly the confidence levels are high, things have gone well for this relationship in the last few years and months, so it seems a very opportune time to go for it.

Question: There has been some professing of fraternal love between the two countries. So my question is do you think that this template of good relationship with erstwhile East Pakistan could serve as a message for India’s relationship with the West Pakistan?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: Well, you used the word fraternal love, I use the word fraternal relationship, but I think you know by asking that question that clearly our relationship with the erstwhile East Pakistan is quite different from the relationship with the erstwhile West Pakistan. But if you ask me, are there lessons of one which can be carried over to the other, I would say quite frankly Yes. I think today the benefits of cooperation, the benefits of connectivity, the benefits of trade, the benefits of cooperation against terrorism which was a threat to both India and Bangladesh, I think those lessons are out there. Now it’s up to others to pick up those lessons and decide which ones of them they are going to use.

Question: When we think about Bangladesh, the first thing that comes to our mind is illegal migration and general visa problem between the two countries. So had there been any talk in this meeting about these two issues?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:
I think there was quite a lot of discussion on the legal movement of people. Clearly it’s in our interest to make the legal movement more effective and accountable so that there is less illegal movement. We have a policy in regard to illegal movement, I wouldn’t pick any particular country in that regard, but I would say on an occasion like this when there are government to government discussions obviously the focus is on how to promote legal movement.

Question: Can you elaborate on visa arrangement with Bangladesh?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: In my opening remarks I underline the fact that actually the visa situation has improved enormously. If you look today, and maybe High Commissioner may want to come in on this, now it’s much easier to get a visa, you get much longer duration visa, different categories of people have almost a faster track regime, medical visas are important. My sense is that there has actually been a huge improvement on the legal visa.

High Commissioner to Dhaka, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla: Earlier allegation was that it was very difficult to access an Indian Visa because the system are of getting appointments through an electronic network was not working the way wanted it to. So obviously there were some people who got appointment and some didn’t and there were some allegations that those who got appointments did it in ways that were not fully lawful.

What we have tried to do is we tried to liberalize the system. Also tried to give access to people on walk-in basis those who have tickets. So today it is very difficult for anyone to say that I can’t access the Indian visa. Anyone with a ticket to go to India, valid for three months by air, train or road can come to any of our centers and get a visa on the spot. So the Indian Visa access problem has been resolved.

The advantages of this is one, the perception of India as a country is better, secondly it encourages people to people contacts thirdly, Bangladeshis, this is perhaps a fact that is not well known, spend a lot of money in terms of medical tourism, in terms of sightseeing, whatever, shopping in India and I think that is also something that we have to look at as one of the gains.

I can also add one thing to what Foreign Secretary mentioned to your earlier question, what he said was the focus of the visit to a large extent was on development cooperation. We are investing a lot in the development of Bangladesh. Obviously there is mutuality of benefit in everything we do, but development of Bangladesh itself precludes over medium to long term the issues that you raised.

Question: Whether an informal assurances or talks on the Teesta issue were furnished by the West Bengal Chief Minister along with the two Prime Ministers? You mentioned that she attended a luncheon and there was a function also before and after that. So were there any informal talks on Teesta between the West Bengal CM and the two PM’s? And the PM’s resolve that his government would clinch an agreement, what is this confidence based on considering that the Chief Ministers has been quite vocal in her opposition to any such agreement?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: What happened at the lunch table I honestly don’t know, I was on a different table so whether there were any conversation, I am not in a position to enlighten you. What I can tell you was that the Prime Minister made some remarks which specifically focused on the Teesta, I think all of you heard it. This was in front of the press so it is for you to draw the right conclusions from that.

Question: Prime Minister Haseena in her statement said that she raised this issue of trade imbalance and anti-dumping duty on Jute. So what assurances she was given, how India is going to address this problem?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: There were some broad trades issue as well as some specific trade issues. Obviously those which are very specific, we will look into them. I think the broader approach really here is that if we can improve connectivity, we can decrease nontariff barriers if there is a greater flow of investment then clearly there would be a greater generation of goods are in Bangladesh and a market which is ready and accessible in India. So we are quite sensitive to their concerns and not only sensitive we are quite prepared to work with them to address.

High Commissioner to Dhaka, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla:If I could just to add what Foreign Secretary said, a very important way to reduce trade imbalance is to encourage investments. We have already given full market access, quota-free, duty-free access to our market to Bangladesh.

The next best thing is really to encourage investment in each other’s country. There is a business event on the 10th. Not to try and predict the outcomes but we already have in mind that we are going to have another trade agreement signed on a business to business basis. Some of them are also between government companies.

So in a certain sense if you add those agreements we have 34 agreements on the whole and we are talking about at least $ 9 billion worth of investments in each other’s countries. So the quantum of investments that we are looking at is huge in each other’s country and this is a very good way to go.

I think the economic climate is such that on both sides that investments can be encouraged and they can be greater flows between our two countries. So that can also address the issue of imbalances to a large extent.

Question: You referred to terrorism in your briefing, but did you discuss anything about the cross-border insurgency which is troubling us also? And secondly did you discuss about the Bangladeshi refugees in India? Any reference to that was made or anything? You talked about legal immigration, what about this illegal immigration from Bangladesh?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: We’ve had a very positive experience in counter-terrorism cooperation with the current government in Bangladesh and I think the results are there for everybody to see. Clearly the law and order situation in our Eastern states and North-Eastern States is very much better in the last few years.

There has been appreciation of the importance of such cooperation for both parties very clearly in the relationship, so that has been at different levels subjects of conversation. Not just conversations but cooperation as well. At the summit level essentially there is a kind of an assessment and you will see that reflected in the in the outcome joint statement.

On the other one, I think in many ways the High Commissioner answered your question that there are different ways of dealing with a problem and among the many ways of a problem is really to encourage employment in Bangladesh and to really spur economic activity there and I think that remains very much part of our approach.

Question: Mera sawaal bhi aatankwaad ko lekar hai ki jo terror network hai aur jiska ek route Bangladesh aur India ke beech bhi hai, us terror network ko khatam karne ke liye ya ladane ke liye kis tarah ke cooperations prabhavi honge? Doosaraa, yeh route ek fake currency ka bhi route hai, usko lekar ke kya koi baatcheet hui?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: Kuchh cheezein jo hain ye specialized hain jaise ki aapne kaha ki fake currency hai, toh leadership level par logon ko pataa hai ki ye ek badi problem hai par iske liye jo beetein hoti hain vistaar mein hoti hain woh leaders ke level par nahi hoti hain, ye baatein alag-alag ministry ke levels par hoti hain. High Commissioner will add more to it.

High Commissioner to Dhaka, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla:Surakshaa ko lekar jo co-operation hai hamaare donon deshon ke beech mein woh kaafi badh chuka hai. Hamaare beech mein kai mechanisms hain jo is tarah ke mudde jaise aatankwaad ya fake Indian currency hain inpar specifically deal kar rahe hain. In baaton par hamaaraa cooperation bahut achha hai aur bahut safal raha hai aur mere khayaal se dono or se badi achchhe tareke se cooperation ho raha hai.

Question: Bangladesh mein jo minority Hindu hain unpar beete kuchh samay se lagaataar attack ho rahe hain. Bangladesh banana ke baad Hinduon ki aabaadi bahut jyaadaa kam ho gai hai. Kya Bharat sarkaar ne koi concern jataayaa hai is par?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: Ye koi aaj ka muddaa nahi hai, ye kuchh samay se chal rahaa hai. Hamaari assessment ye hai ki abhi jo sarkaar hai, agar aap Bangladesh ki raajnaitk analysis karein to ye sarkaar bahut hi progressive, pluralistic, secular and liberal sarkaar hai. Inki koshish to hai ki jahaan par bhi minorities par aise attacks hote hain to unko yaa to rokein yaa unke khilaaf kuch kaaryavaahi karein.

Agar kuchh hua hai to uski jaanch karein. Ye koi nai baat nahin hai ki is visit ke dauraan is par baat ho, pehle jab hum log wahaan gaye hain tab bhi is par baat ho chuki hai. Mantri ke level par jo meeting hui hain unmein bhi ye muddaa uthaa hai. Toh ek tarah se main kahungaa ki yah ek ongoing issue hai aur hum to chaahte hain ki is par jitnaa bhi cooperation ho sake aur aise attacks ko to roknaa chahiye aur woh bhi maante hain ki ye hit mein nahi hai.

Aapko main bataanaa chahungaa ki jo FICN wala issue tha ispar ek Joint Working Group aur is working group ki kaafi regular meetings ho rahi hain. FICN ke alaawaa human-trafficking par bhi working group hai. Aapne jo migration aur refugees ki baat uthaai thi toh is tarah ki alag alag meetings hoti rahti hain officials ke beech mein, alag alag ministries aur ministers ke beech mein meeting hote rahte hain. Ye summit level jo hai ye ek tarah se poore assessment ki opportunity hai aur woh yahan par ho raha hai.

Question: Under the US $ 500 million line of credit for defence acquisitions, what weapon systems or platforms are likely to be exported to Bangladesh, have they indicated any preferences?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: No, I don’t think we have come to that degree of specificity in our conversations, but we have made a broad point obviously that we would be very much guided by their priorities and their request. So they’ll have to in a sense look at it from their needs point of view and what the supply possibilities are for us. So we haven’t come to that point which you are asking.

Question: Today Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena did mention about two other projects, one PadmaGanga barrage and Reeva delta management. What is the response from our side?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: On both there have been discussions. There have been discussions on Ganges barrage and there have been discussions on a number of rivers. Rather than give you a summary position I would suggest if you could just wait for the joint statement because both of them are addressed in some detail in the joint statement.

Question: Both Prime Ministers spoke about zero tolerance for terror. You heard what the Prime Minister of India said at the Manekshaw Centre. Now all that being said, is there any joint effort, or I wouldn’t say forum, but joint effort by these two countries, India and Bangladesh, as far as this issue is concerned at the diplomatic level or at any other level because without naming Pakistan, Prime Minster of India has virtually pointed at Pakistan as did Sheikh Haseena in a sense. So is there a diplomatic effort, a special diplomatic effort afoot?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: And you want me answer that without naming anybody. I will put it to you this way, we are very clear and so is the Bangladesh government today that terrorism, different aspects of terrorism, terrorist networks, foreign terrorist, local terrorist and all that, terrorism actually is a threat to each other and we have cooperated extremely well in dealing with it and responding to it which is why you have a very visible improvement are in the security situation as I said in the East and the North-East.

Now your further observation about the diplomatic convergence on this issue, yes I would say if you read their speeches of the Prime Minister even her officials on different occasions and you look at the positions that we have taken. There is a very similar thinking at play, both of ours thinking is shaped by our experience and so then you have to ask yourself what is your experience, what is it that concerns you in terms of the sources of terrorism, the sponsors of terrorism, the networks of terrorism.

So I think in the past both at the regional level and international level we have had very positive exchanges of views, sometimes even coordinated positions on such matters. And I can imagine that is something that would continue.

Question: Two civil nuclear agreements or MoU were agreed. What would this entail?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:
The agreements in question are, one is the peaceful usage agreement that we have and this is something which is a standard. It’s like a basic foundation agreement that we have with different countries which is almost I would say is the enabling step to do nuclear cooperation in different forms including training or it could be any other practical activity as well.

The scope of cooperation that this particular agreement envisages includes transfer and exchange of knowledge, supply and manufacture of components for use in nuclear power plants, treatment manage of radioactive waste, nuclear safety, radiation safety etc. It sort of lays out possibilities, it’s in that sense a non-specific agreement, but as I said it’s an enabling agreement. If you were to actually do nuclear work with anybody we would need this as the first step.

The second agreement was between our Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and the Bangladeshi Regulatory Board and the purpose of this is really to facilitate exchange of information and training of personnel to deal with various aspects of safety and regulatory issues pertaining to operations of nuclear facilities.

We have also signed agreement between the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership GCNEP and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. Here it is really focusing on capacity building in Bangladesh including training of personnel and addressing issues like design principles, construction, quality assurance et cetera and the reason why this is important is that Bangladesh is actually actively working with Russia for a nuclear power project. So I think our cooperation helps them to strengthen their capabilities and skills and evaluation abilities to get the best out of that project. I think these are the three agreements.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Thank you very much. With this we come to the end of this interaction. I would like to thank the Foreign Secretary, the High Commissioner and the Joint Secretary and of course all of you for being with us here today.

Thank you.

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