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Transcript (uncorrected) of Media Briefing on upcoming visits of PM to China and Myanmar (September 01, 2017)

September 02, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namashkar and good after noon. Again a very warm welcome to all of you to this special briefing. It is special because it is not a regular briefing which means that we will confine our presentation and our briefing on Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to China and Myanmar from September 03 to 07.

The secretary concerned and the Joint Secretary looking after the multilateral economic relations, they are already in China for the Summit. With me is my colleague Sripriya Ranganathan, she is Joint Secretary Bangladesh and Myanmar. She will be touching upon the Prime Minister’s visit to Myanmar but before I handover the floor to her, I have read out on the BRICS Summit itself.

We have already announced through a press release on 29th August that Prime Minister will be visiting Xiamen in Chinese Fujian province from 3 – 5 September, 2017 to attend the 9th BRICS Summit. The theme of the 9th BRICS Summit is "Stronger Partnership for a better future.”

Let me just take you through the program. Prime Minister will arrive in Xiamen in late evening of 3rd September, 2017. There is no engagement on the first day. Next day in the morning there will be a welcome ceremony and a photo-op which will be followed by a BRICS restricted session. It is expected that discussions during this session will focus on global economic situation and international economic governance, national security development and other international and regional issues. This will be followed by a BRICS plenary session where the leaders will discuss the practical cooperation for common development, people to people exchanges and cultural cooperation and institution building.

In the evening there is an opening ceremony of the BRICS cultural festival and cultural exhibition followed by the meeting of BRICS leaders with BRICS business council. During this dialogue the chairman of the China BRICS Business Council will submit his report and another report will be submitted by the President of the New Development Bank.

Immediately thereafter, again we are still on the 4th of September, the documents for the BRICS Summit will be signed. It is expected that there will be at least four such documents, BRICS Action Agenda on Economic and Trade Development is the first one, BRICS Action Agenda on the Innovation Cooperation is the second one. Third is the BRICS Customs Cooperation and the fourth document will be MoU between BRICS Business Council and New Development Bank.

In the evening of the 4th, the BRICS leaders will be joined by the leaders of the five guest countries and their spouses for a welcome ceremony and banquet. These five countries are Thailand, Mexico, Egypt, Guinea and Tazkhistan.

We move to the next day which is 5th September, there is a BRICS Emerging Market and Developing Countries dialogue. This is an opportunity for BRICS member countries to exchange views with the developing world and to build broader partnership for development. In the afternoon of the 5th, Prime Minister will depart for the second leg of his tour to Myanmar.

To give you a background, BRICS brings together five major emerging economies comprising 42% of the world’s population, having 23% of global of GDP and 17% share in the world trade. BRICS cooperation has two pillars, consultation on issues of mutual interests through meeting of leaders and ministers and practical cooperation through meeting of senior officials in a number of areas including trade, finance, health, education, S & T, agriculture, communications, IT etc.

Other BRICS exchanges can be broadly characterized as parliamentary exchanges ministerial meetings, working groups and senior officials meeting. It also includes people to people exchanges and many other similar exercises. Through a network of high level and working group meetings BRICS agenda has expanded considerably to include issues of mutual concerns. In the run up to the summit several ministerial meetings in different sectors have taken place. We of course attach importance to our engagement to BRICS which is an important platform to discuss economic and trade issues as well as other contemporary issues of mutual interests.

This ends my read out of Prime Minister’s visit to China to attend the 9th BRICS Summit. Now I pass on the floor to Sripriya to brief you on the second leg of the trip to Myanmar.

Jt. Secretary (BM), Smt. Sripriya Ranganathan: Good after noon all of you. As you know the Prime Minister of India will be paying a state visit to Myanmar. The visit begins on the 5th of September and will last till the 7th of September. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last visited Myanmar in November 2014 but that was for ASEAN India Summit that was not for a bilateral meeting. This is therefore his first bilateral state visit to Myanmar.

We have had some outstanding interaction with the Government of Myanmar since the new government came into office in April last year. The President Htin Kyaw had visited India in August 2016 on a state visit. State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had visited in October last year. These are all incoming visit and we welcome them greatly. We have also had number of occasions for interaction between the Prime Minister, the External Affairs Minister and the Myanmar leadership on the margins of various other multilateral meetings to which both have been present.

We regard this visit as an important visit but one in the series of an ongoing interaction which we hope will continue in the future. I will just give you a little bit of detail about the program content. Prime Minister will reach Naypyidaw which is the capital of Myanmar on the afternoon of 5 September from China. He will have a ceremonial welcome. He will call on the President Htin Kyaw who will host an official banquet for him.

The next day there would be a formal set of meetings with State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi followed by the signing and exchange of agreements and joint press conference. He will then proceed to Bagan which is a very well-known heritage city in fact the place where India is also involved in some leading development cooperation projects. He will see the kind of work that is actually being carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India on the Aananda Temple. He will then move on to the Yangon where he will have series of engagements. He meets with the large Indian community of the Myanmar. He will of course visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. He will pay tribute to General Aung San at the Martyr’s Mausoleum. He will also visit a very famous Hindu temple and pay tribute to the shrine of Bahadur Shah Zafar. After that he returns to Delhi on the afternoon of the September 7.

We have few important agreements in the pipeline which we are hoping to sign during the visit. They are in a range of sectors which we believe have a lot of the promise for the relationship. These include maritime cooperation, health, some development cooperation projects, culture and capacity building. We find that there visit will be an occasion for us to not only review our ongoing development cooperation partnership which is very very vibrant aspect of our relationship.

As you know the bulk of the projects that we currently have in active phase of implementation and many of which have actually just about completed are those which were conceived off and agreed upon with the previous government of Myanmar. So we will take stock of those projects, where we stand on Kaladan project, where we stand on Trilateral Highway project, on the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology and so on and we will also discuss the kind of projects which the new government has on its priority list and which they would like to partner India with in the process of execution.

We will be guided by the government of Myanmar in terms of the choice of projects. The stated priorities of this government are infrastructure, power and energy and we believe these could be the areas where there is a great deal that Indian agencies can bring to the table. We will also continue our fairly robust training and capacity building program and we believe that in the course of this visit few more strands of this program would emerge.

Just a few basic facts and figures on the kind of foundation of our bilateral cooperation. You know that Myanmar is a neighbor, it is a friendly neighbor, it is a neighbor with which we share 1600km long boundary. We have had traditional ties of kinship which link the people who have been living along this long border. We have four states which actually share the border with Myanmar.

Our bilateral trade is currently in the region of about 2.2 billion USD and there is reasonable balance of trade. We have invested about 750 million USD in Myanmar by the way of both public and private sector investment. Four Indian banks have recently established presence in Myanmar, State Bank of India, United Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank and Exim Bank and we believe through the good officers of these banks also the kind of trade and commercial relations will really receive a boost.

Our overall development cooperation program with Myanmar is actually quite sizeable. We have commitment of 1.75 billion USD of which the bulk of it is by way of grants and aid. We also find that Myanmar is very very important partner for us in both our Act East policy and Neighborhood First policy.

ASEAN being area of focus India’s cooperation agenda, we find that Myanmar is a very natural partner. It is our gateway to the ASEAN and we treat it as such. We are also working very closely with Myanmar within the framework of BIMSTEC to which we are attaching a great deal of importance. Our joint focus is on enhancing connectivity, trade, energy and people to contacts. So on the whole we see this as being very very important visit and the one in which we will provide yet another opportunity for the Indian and Myanmar leadership to build on the rapport that they have already developed and take the relationship forward. Thank You.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Sripriya. Just to share with you that on the BRICS itself when we are there, I think a lot of your colleagues will be there as well so we might have a briefing on the second day i.e. 4th September, after at least part of the program is underway and some of it will already be over. So we are looking at briefing sessions, perhaps on the 4th and there you can address some of the substantive questions related to BRICS. Now the floor is open for questions.

Question: Is there any proposal from the Indian side for a bilateral between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping? And to Sripriya, on the issue of the Rohingya Muslims, it has also become a crucial issue that also impacts one of India’s other neighbor i.e. Bangladesh. What really is the kind of discourse happening on this issue and is India kind of moving away from its commitments when it comes to its refugee policy?

Question: Does the Prime Minister has any bilaterals with any of the other visiting heads of governments on the sidelines of BRICS? And since this year’s theme is strengthening partnerships and they have invited five observer countries, I just wanted to know what is government of India’s take on the expansion or the potential expansion of BRICS?

Question: Considering that very recently we have resolved the Doklam dispute, are there going to be any talks between both sides at any level to just probably take it further or ease tensions further?

Jt. Secretary (BM), Smt. Sripriya Ranganathan: The issue of the Rakhine state, it is a matter of great concern. You would have seen that there has been a particularly prominent attack recently in which a large number of people have lost their lives and we have reached out to the government of Myanmar after these attacks as well to see what is the state of play and what can be done. You would also have seen that the National Advisory Commission under the leadership of Kofi Annan has recently submitted its report. It is a fairly elaborate report with fairly exhaustive recommendations. We are told by the government of Myanmar that they are giving very careful and positive consideration to the recommendations in this report. We will be discussing how India can help them in addressing the situation that is prevailing in the state.

As to the refugee policy, I don’t think there is any change in India’s long stated policy. In so far as illegal immigrants are concerned, that is again a very long standing and established procedure on the basis of Indian law which we will continue to follow. There is absolutely no change.

Question: Does Bangladesh had a discourse with you because it is impacting them also?

Jt. Secretary (BM), Smt. Sripriya Ranganathan: I guess all the countries which are impacted and the international community as a whole, everybody who has a concern has been talking about this but ultimately it is for the government of Myanmar to figure out how best to address the situation which prevails in the state.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Coming back to your first question and perhaps other questions on bilateral meetings, expected question and perhaps you will get a very expected reply from me which is that it is a common practice at such multilateral forums that there are bilateral meeting that are arranged on the sidelines of the summit. At this stage it is still developing, there are several factors involved. We will share with you as and when meetings get confirmed, maybe a day prior to the meeting, maybe a day and a half but I am not in a position to share the timings and details of meeting which have already been confirmed and this includes within the BRICS member countries and also the guest countries who have been invited by China.

Further to the question regarding expansion, you would be aware that the host country has the right to invite countries to participate as guests during the BRICS summit. If you recall the BRICS summit in Goa last year, we had invited the BIMSTEC countries to come and participate. It should not be related to any expansion of BRICS at this stage.

Further, about another question where Doklam was tried to bring through BRICS, since I have not confirmed any meeting, I think it is very premature to share with you at this stage what are the issues which will be discussed with other leaders.

Question: China ki taraf se ek din pahle hi ye kahaa gayaa hai ki aatankwaad aur Pakistan ka mudda is BRICS meeting mein na uthaaye koi country, khaaskar Bhaarat ko lekar kahaa gayaa hai. To kya Bhaarat aatankwaad ka mudda us forum mein uthaayega yaa fir jis tarah se China ne kahaa hai ki is par uthaanaa uchit nahi hai.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Dekhiye ek jo document hai, jo declaration hota hai har ke BRICS summit ke baad, wo abhi disucss ho raha hai, hamare officials wahaan par hain, jo joint declaration hota hai. Usmein kaafi cheezein hain. Is stage par mera bataanaa ki usmein kyaa hai kya nahi hai, wo premature hogaa. Mere khayaal se ye document jab taiyaar ho jaayega, jab ye release hogaa to sabko pata chal jaayega, usmein fir hum dekh sakenge ki kyaa hai.

Mere liye ye kahna bahut uchit nahi hogaa ki Pradhanmantri apane internventions mein kin-kin baaton ka muddaa uthayenge.

Just to translate in English, he asked whether the issue of terrorism and Pakistan will figure in the disucssions and the outcome document, my reply is that the document is still a matter of discussion between the member countries, it has not yet been finalized so will not be in a position to share what is in the document and what is outside and the same applies to the Prime Minister’s meeting with other leaders as well.

Question: Chinese foreign minister only two days ago advised India to learn lesson from the Doklam incident.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: As I told you that the question should be related to BRICS and Myanmar, or related to the upcoming visit of Prime Minister to China and Myanmar.

Question Contd.: Since Prime Minister is going to China?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, it doesn’t fall in that category. I am sorry.

Question: Is it prevalent tradition that any host country can put a condition that the participating countries should not speak about this or that, is it a tradition? And are the NSA’s meeting in China, Indian and Chinese NSA?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: To answer your first question, any leader’s intervention is that leader’s intervention. So you are free to speak whatever you want in that conference but as far as the declaration document goes, it is achieved through consensus. Discussions take place between different parties and then you reach consensus which is the final outcome document. So I hope I was able to clarify the point.

The NSA meeting took place in the last month only, I think at the end of July. I am not aware of any meeting which is planned now.

Question: In the Rohingya crisis, whether India is looking at only security angle or it also has a humanitarian angle, because already United Nations Human Rights body has commented on it, the crisis of the people, innocent people are being harassed and they are now crossing over to Bangladesh and to India, there is a possibility.

Question: Bhaarat, Myanmar aur Bangkok ke beech mein ek sadak ban rahi hai, uski abhi kyaa Pragati hai aur Pradhanmantri ke wahaan jaane ke baad kyaa ummeed kar sakte hain ki usmein kuch gati aayegi?

Question: When Aung San Suu Kyi was here, she publicly stated that she wanted to know more and obviously more from the Indian government about the surgical strike that happened from the Indian side into Burma, also the fact that even the latest intel report of yesterday speak of a concentration and gives of details of presence of insurgents on the other side. Now is this issue going to come up, does the Prime Minister is going to raise this issue during the meeting? And also sir, as far as China is concerned, is there an informal meeting between the two SRs likely, on the sidelines of BRICS?

Jt. Secretary (BM), Smt. Sripriya Ranganathan: The question about the Rohingya, it is a fact that the situation in Rakhine state has variety of aspects. It has developmental aspects, it has humanitarian aspect and it has a security aspect and these are all aspects that have been, in fact, very correctly highlighted by Kofi Annan in the report that they have recently submitted.

So we are not by any means diminishing any of the aspects, they are all relevant, they are all important. What we have been trying to do consistently with the government of Myanmar over the past few years ever since problem really acquired the kind of proportions that it currently has, is to encourage the government to find ways of stimulating some socio-economic development in that area because ultimately if there is active economic activity in the state, I think many of the problems will actually, at least reduce, if not completely disappear.

We have also provided some assistance towards enabling this kind of constructive activity and efforts by the government to support communal harmony in the state and we believe this has been put to use but there is a great deal more that needs to be done. We have also tried to focus some of our own direct developmental work by activities in the state, as you know the Kaladan project actually commences in the Rakhine state and we are very confident that once that complete corridor is functional, there will be a positive impact on the situation in the state and we will continue to work with the government of Myanmar to see how much more we can do to support this.

Coming to the question of the Trilateral Highway, this is one of any number of big projects that we have embarked upon. They are all in full swing so the Prime Minister and the Myanmar government will undoubtedly take stock of where we stand and what needs to be done to give it the next push, but I don’t see any problem as such in the project which needs to be overcome. It is in hand, let me put it that way.

The question about the activities by the Indian army along the India-Myanmar border last year, I think it is very well known that the actions that were carried out, it is a difficult border, it is a border on which the exact location of the boundary can sometimes be difficult to make out. So I don’t think there is any misunderstanding between us and the government of Myanmar on what we sought to do and we will continue to do.

The problem of the activities of insurgents who are taking advantage of this kind of geography to work against Indian interests is something again which has remained a matter of discussion between the Indian and the Myanmar leadership and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there is full confidence on both sides about the good intentions of the governments concerned and the desire on both sides to prevent any hostile activities from taking place from Myanmar soil into India.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Your question on the possibility of SR meeting, I think we know what this meeting is all about, the summit which is for the BRICS and I am not aware of any possible meetings the two SRs on the sidelines in Xiamen.

Question: This is just a quick follow up on economic development in Myanmar. I was just wondering that if there was a sense about political capabilities of Government of Myanmar right now, it seems that there is a lot of disagreement on policies being implemented and the faith in the international community in Aung San Suu Kyi’s government actually push through some of the economic reforms and other sorts of policies on security and other things that may be people had expected before she took power. I was just wondering what your analysis was and whether you thought that Indian firms operating there or foreign companies in to Myanmar would benefit from added political stability and serve resolution of the Rohingya, Rakhine state difficulties? Thanks.

Question: Last year in the BRICS summit the business council recommended setting up a credit rating agency of the BRICS countries and also a reserve of own currencies. Actually the credit rating agency did find a mention in the Goa declaration. Has there been any forward movement on that front and also the New Development Bank, what are the areas where they have expanded during the last year, since the Goa declaration, you can give a rough idea.

Jt. Secretary (BM), Smt. Sripriya Ranganathan: If I understood your question correctly, you are asking whether the policies that have been adopted by the new government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whether they are giving adequate comfort to foreign players and you linked that up with the overall political stability in the country. Now I think that the government is a new government. It is obviously taking its own steps towards devising policies that it believes are correct for the future of the country and for the future of the people and we will totally respect that and that is something that we would expect that Indian companies would also respect that and work with the Myanmar authorities to figure out how best their commercial interests can be fulfilled or advanced by the prevailing regulator environment in Myanmar.

We have no doubt that the opportunities for Indian companies and the kind of skills that they would bring to the table would be recognized and appreciated by the Myanmar authorities and they will find the space they need to bring their own resources and their own skills to bear on the Myanmar economy. And yes obviously political stability is something which is essential for investor friendly environment that is an area in which we wish the government of Myanmar very well.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: On the question related to the BRICS business council, you are aware that this was set up in 2013 in Durban and it has 25 senior industrial leaders from all the five countries. We have five nominations from India as well. The council has identified five sectorial working groups that you must be aware and they are energy and green economy, infrastructure, manufacturing, skill development and financial services.

Coming to the Goa summit and what we agreed to, there were several recommendations which were made by the BRICS business council last year and I’ll just mention some of them, there was an agreement to have a BRICS social security agreement, then financial framework for sustainable development, BRICS infrastructure project preparation facility, BRICS trade settlement in local currencies, BRICS cooperation in agri business, BRICS cooperation in energy, BRICS trade facilitation network, all of them are work in progress including the one which you mentioned i.e. BRICS credit rating agency. I’m sure in the upcoming visit you will get a sense of how much we have achieved. Normally the reports are submitted by the BRICS business council to the two leaders about the progress which has been made since the last announcement and I think we should wait for the report which is going to be submitted by the BRICS business council.

Question: Jaisa ki apekshit hai ki BRICS ke manch par aatankwaad ke upar charchaa hogi. Ab jahaan tak aatankwaad ka sawaal hai China maantaa hai ki Pakistan ka ek badaa contribution hai aatankwaad ki ladaai mein jabaki hamaari soch ye hai ki Pakistan aatankwaad ka panaahgaar hai, to kya aap aise mein us manch par maanate hain ki ye jo mat-bhinnataa hai China aur Bhaarat ki, ye outcome ko prabhaavit karti hai, kya isiliye China chaahataa hai ki aatankwaad par Bhaarat apani taraf se kuchh naa kahe?

Question: I may have missed this when you said this before so this is by way of clarification, I’m just wondering whether India has sought any bilateral meeting with Chinese President because I think I saw a statement from the Chinese side yesterday, the Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying that if request comes from the delegation we will try and accommodate. Is there a retreat or any other informal session or setting where there is possibility of a meeting between the two?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I have shared the program of the entire BRICS summit with you all and there is nothing more which is outside or which is on side lanes of what I have already shared. On the meeting itself my submission is that please have some patience, we will very soon come up with who all the Prime Minister is going to meet as you know that normally we make the announcements not too much in advance. There are five, six, seven leaders in town and working out the timings etc. it is not so easy so please have some patience, we will share with you the details of all the meetings as and when it comes to me.

Jo aapakaa sawaal hai, dekhiye hamaaraa jo rukh hai aatankwaad ke khilaaf wo kisi se chupaa huaa nahi hai aur humne har forum pe kahaa hai ki hum uski kadi nindaa karte hain. Koi bhi religion, koi bhi mazhab ke naam par isko support nahi kar sakta hai. Is stage par mere liye ye kehna mushkil aur main pre-empt nahi karna chahunga ki hamare leaders wahaan par kya bolenge, jahaan tak meri information hai, ye ek important mudda hai, hamari position clear hai, hamein thodaa sabra karnaa chahiye aur dekhanaa chaahiye ki hamare jo Pradhanmantri wahaan par jaa kar kyaa bolte hain aur jo declaration document hai usmein ye kis dhang se baahar prateet hota hai, baahar nikal ke aataa hai.

Basically the question was that whether we are going to project terrorism as one of the challenges being faced and will our leadership and will our Prime Minister speak on this issue. I explained that our position on terrorism is very clear, we have raised it at different multilateral forums. It is not possible for me to pre-empt what PM will speak during his intervention at the BRICS restricted session and BRICS plenary session and also how and in what shape it is going to come out in the declaration document.

Question: Since leaders of India, China, Russia are there is there any possibility of India Russia China summit level meeting there?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
I am not aware of any such meeting that has been planned at this stage.

Question: What is India’s position on the issue of the expansion of BRICS? Is there a particular position that we have taken?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I just explained about our position on expansion of BRICS, as I mentioned that the countries which are participating are getting invited by the host country to participate. It is not in form of an expansion, these are outreach activities which the host country feels the other countries should be invited to, as we invited BIMSTEC countries, China has selected five countries depending on some criteria which they might have defined and that is all what I have to share on this.

With this we come to the end of this special press briefing.

Thank you all very much. Namashkar.

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