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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary and Secretary (East) in Manila (November 13, 2017)

November 14, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good evening friends. As promised we are here to give you a briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to Philippines and thank you for your patience. We wanted all the meetings for today to be over before so we could come and brief you about all the elements of the program today. You are aware that there are three elements to the visit.

First is the India-ASEAN Summit, the second is the East-Asia Summit and the third is the component of bilaterals including the bilateral with the Philippines President. So we have a big panel today. We have the Foreign Secretary here, we have Secretary (East), we have the Ambassador to Philippines Mr. Jaideep Mazumdar and we also have the Jt. Secretaries, Vinay Kumar and Anurag Bhushan. First I will request Secretary (East) to take us through the program today.

Secretary (East), Ms Preeti Saran:
Good evening friends and thank you for kindly bearing with us. We couldn’t have held this briefing earlier because we just concluded a very successful and bilateral meeting of our Prime Minister with President Duterte of Philippines, the host of the summit and our host today therefore we have come straight from that meeting.

It’s been a very busy day from the very beginning. As you know Prime Minister arrived last evening and soon thereafter he went to attend the Gala Dinner that was hosted by the President of Philippines in honor of all the visiting dignitaries who have been invited for ASEAN and ASEAN related summit meetings. So all the ten leaders of ASEAN were invited, eight leaders from East Asia Summit who are part of the 10+8 in addition to that there were Prime Minister of Canada, UK and Secretary General of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. So there were invitees to this particular and related meetings that had started since the Gala Dinner held last evening.

Early this morning, as I mentioned, the day started very early for our Prime Minister, at 9 O’ clock along with the other leaders who have been invited, he attended the 31st Opening Ceremony of ASEAN Summit. As I mentioned to you in Delhi in our briefing before we left that this particular ASEAN summit is very significant for ASEAN member countries because it is 50th of the establishment of ASEAN and under the Chairmanship of Philippines a very grand opening ceremony was held which was normally attended by only ASEAN member states but this time the invitations also extended to the East Asia Summit leaders as well and in that capacity our Prime Minister was present there.

There was a very interesting component, the cultural program that was put up included Ramayan musical performance, dance drama from the Ramayana. I’ll come to that later when I’ll brief you about our Prime Minister’s bilateral meeting with President Duterte where he definitely referred to it because it is something very special. The fact that ASEAN heritage celebrates the Ramayana shows the very close linkages, cultural, historical that India has with entire South East Asia region.

After attending the opening ceremony our Prime Minister visited to particulars institutions. One is the International Rice Research Institute and then he went to the Mahavir Philippines Foundation. International Rice Research Institute, India has a very old relationship with this particular very well-known global institution of repute known for undertaking a lot of research on rice and rice cultivation and has subsequently enlarged its scope of work and research to go beyond into the issues of food security, issues of climate change, the issues that are of direct interest to India.

Large number of Indian scientists work at this particular institution. Dr. M S Swaminathan who is the father of India’s Green Revolution has also very strong association with this particular institute. This particular institute has decided to open its first ever South Asian Branch which will be opened in Varanasi in January next year. So Prime Minister visited the institute, particular took a lot of interest in seeing the research work that has been done for saline tolerant, drought tolerant and flood tolerant rice seeds which is again of a lot of interest to us.

Prime Minister also gifted two special kinds of rice grain genes to this particular institute and they have agreed, actually offered instantly that all research that comes after this particular gift from India will in fact be used for their future research and they will share with India. So that was very successful and interesting. The fact that there were so many Indian scientists also in the research institute had a special resonance for our Prime Minister.

Then he went to the Mahavir Philippines Foundation which really is an NGO, charitable institution which has helping Pilipino and Indian descent and is doing some excellent humanitarian work in fixing the Jaipur Foot and has helped a large number of amputees who have been beneficiaries of it and in fact as a gesture of goodwill and our support to the institute our Prime Minister has offered a modest two hundred thousand dollars donation to this institute which would help in further carrying the activities of this particular institute.

After that our Prime Minister addressed the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. Now this is part of the ASEAN Business Forum that comprises of business communities and associations from all the ten ASEAN countries and they come together. There was a gathering of more than 1200 plus there and there were other leaders who were participating in ASEAN related summit who have also addressed this gathering that will include leaders from Myanmar, Russia and from the Republic of Korea and our Prime Minister.

As the organizers they themselves have announced that he was the purple patch of that particular gathering and was very warmly received. Our Prime Minister while addressing the gathering of course did talk about immense potential in improving and moving bilateral trade and investment relations with Philippines in particular and with the ASEAN region in general. He focused on two particular points. One, he said that of course that given the range in which the dynamism of the Indian economy and the economies of ASEAN countries and of Philippines in particular as well that this was the area of future growth and opportunities and therefore we should work together.

In that context he focused on a number of activities that Government of India has undertaken to enhance connectivity. Land connectivity, air connectivity and marine connectivity with the ASEAN region and you are aware of the some of the important projects. On the land side that includes the Trilateral Highway, moving from North East India to Myanmar to Thailand and of course the multi-modal transport. He did refer to the efforts and discussions that are taking place with India and ASEAN in land and maritime cooperation agreements.

So really connectivity was a very important focus and in that context Prime Minister when he was addressing the gathering of business community, he invited them to two important events that India is organizing. One is in December which is the connectivity summit in December which is called India-ASEAN Connectivity Summit that will be held in Delhi. And then of course from 22-24 January there is a business summit which will be held. The two events are run up to the commemorative summit that we will host in January to celebration 25 years of India-ASEAN friendship. So that was really the highlight of Prime Minister’s speech. I’m sure we would put it up on the MEA website so you’ll have other details of what Prime Minister stated to the business community of the ASEAN region.

So these are components of ASEAN related activities and some bilateral components. Before I move on to the bilateral that we just concluded let me just give you the time table of the other bilaterals. As I mentioned in Delhi that Prime Minister’s consistent participation in EAST Asia Summit and the ASEAN related meetings reflects of course the importance that we attach to the region but also how it provides an opportunity to meet with so many leaders who are also members of this region.

Informally Prime Minister had an opportunity to meet almost all the leaders because there was the Gala Dinner yesterday, the Opening Ceremony in the morning and specifically he had a very good informal chat with the Prime Minister of China. He congratulated him for a very successful holding of the Communist Party Congress. He also had similar very good informal meetings with other leaders including from Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia, Japan, of course he would be meeting Prime Minister Abe tomorrow as well. He had other very good meetings with leaders from Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia.

Tomorrow morning he would have a series of bilaterals including before he moves on to three specific summits. So he would have meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia and the new elected Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Prime Minister of Vietnam and His Majesty, the Sultan of Brunei and as I mentioned the Prime Minister of Japan. The two other bilaterals that were held today were with President Trump of United States which I will request our Foreign Secretary to give us a briefing from that one but I’ll run you through some of the important elements of Prime Minister’s meeting with President Duterte. As you know this is the first Prime Ministerial visit from India to Philippines in 36 years. Dr. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister has attended the Cebu ASEAN summit in 2007 but we have not had a bilateral.

So it is the first bilateral component of the visit which includes this very good meeting plus these institutions that Prime Minister visited, sorry I forgot to mention another very important component and that was Prime Minister’s meeting with Indian community that was hosted by our Ambassador. Again it was a gathering more than 1 lakh 20 thousand, the figures were wrong because I was focusing on student community alone. There is a large 10000 Indian student community that are studying here but Prime Minister had a very successful with the Indian community. He was very warmly received by the entire Indian community that was present there.

I’ll just quickly go back to the bilateral element. I was telling that this is the first time that an Indian Prime Minister has visited in 36 years. It is the first visit of Prime Minister Modi to Philippines. Although Prime Minister had met President Duterte last year in Laos that was just very briefly on the margins of the summit, there was no bilateral. So this is really in a manner has been the first opportunity for our leaders to meet with each other to get to know each other and I have to say that it was an excellent meeting in a very warm and cordial atmosphere.

Prime Minister congratulated President Duterte for a very successful organization of the ASEAN related meetings and summits and the excellent arrangements made for the warm hospitality that was extended to the Indian delegation and to the Indian that was of course reciprocated by President Duterte as well. Prime Minister used the opportunity to invite President Duterte for a commemorative summit that will be held next year which President Duterte gladly accepted as have other ASEAN leaders. So this provided an opportunity to personally invite the President to visit India.

President Duterte, as I said, warmly welcomed our Prime Minister. He said that he would like to have very good relations with India and want to make it move forward, make it robust and really both leaders agreed that there was immense potential in our economic, trade and investment relations and that we could do better and we should do better. From the President of Philippines side on his own he said that presently he is very committed to improve the health system in his own country and so he said he really looked to greater Indian investments coming in in the pharmaceutical sector so that people in Philippines will also have access to good quality affordable drugs for which India is so known for. So on his own he invited the Indian pharmaceutical sector to participate in Philippines’ health sector story.

The other areas of cooperation that are identified as important where is potential, one was the sector of education and which is why I got the figures of the Indian students. There are more than 10000 Indian students studying in Philippines and a lot of them in medicine field. Because Philippines is a democracy, it is an English speaking population, it is a natural place for Indian students who seek such education elsewhere to also come to Philippines and that was very warmly welcomed and seen as a very important area.

Another very important area for potential growth was to have the participation of Indian infrastructure companies to participate in President Duterte’s desire to improve infrastructure in Philippines as part of his build, build, build program.

Another very important sector which I mentioned right in the beginning but I think I should run you through some agreements that we have signed and that was for defence cooperation. Here again there in immense potential for both India public and private sector companies who already have a core competence and strength for example off-shore petrol vessels and other areas where there was interest and participation of Indian companies.

In that context there were four agreements that were signed at the end of this bilateral meeting. One was on defence cooperation and logistics and that is where we see immense potential for cooperation and also in humanitarian assistance and disaster risk reductions (HDR) was an important component of this particular MoU and we see a future there.

Second important agreement that was signed was agriculture. Prime Minister’s visit to the rice institute was an important component of this as well. But third agreement signed was in micro, small and medium enterprises and the last one was the cooperation between Indian council for World Affairs and Philippines Foreign Services Institute. So these were four MoUs that were signed, in addition to that announcement for Indian Cultural Relations chair at Philippines University was also made.

So these were in terms of substantive outcomes of the meeting. I’ll close quickly here because I’m sure you have questions but I’ll just say last but not the least, the meeting started with both our leaders sharing the importance of cooperation in terrorism. Both recognized after five month seize of Marawi the Government of Philippines has very successfully combated the scourge of terrorism with this particular incident in Marawi and so both leaders said that scourge of terrorism has to be combated actively and that it was agreed that since we have both been victims of terrorism it is an important area for cooperation and that we both would be working together in combating and countering terrorism and so this was a very very important outcome of the discussion that took place.

Ambassador to Philippines, Mr. Jaideep Mazumdar: Just would like to add that at the International Rice Research Institute the Prime Minister also inaugurated what they have named as Shri Narendra Modi facility for development of flood resistant rice the objective of which is to double farmer income in flood prone areas. And finally at the bilateral meeting with President Duterte also discussed was the cooperation in renewable energy which President Duterte also expressed great interest and in particular Prime Minister invited Philippines to join the International Solar Alliance which President agreed.

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: I will quickly run you through the meeting with President Trump. On our side Prime Minister with the complete delegation with all of us here and NSA, from American side Secretary of State was there, NSA was there and other state department officials. First part of the meeting was on camera and you would have seen that. It began with President Trump saying that there are a lot of good reports coming out of India in economic terms. Then moved on to a range of bilateral, regional and global issues.

Bilateral was mainly economic issues that were discussed. Trade and investment and the thrust of the discussion was really how to grow trade and investment, how to improve market access in each other’s countries and Prime Minister particularly noted that energy import has started now from the United States and the first shipment of the US Oil arrived in India. Also staying on the bilateral side there was some discussion on Global Entrepreneurship summit which is to be held in Hyderabad where Prime Minister mentioned that he is looking forward to Ivanka Trump’s visit in that context and some discussion on the defence cooperation side.

On the global regional issues President Trump shared his impressions of his Asian visit. He said he was out for twelve days and obviously visited a number of countries and he shared with Prime Minister his impressions of those visits. So I’ll say there was a broad review of the discussion.

There were more specific discussions on a few subjects, one was situation around North Korea and its nuclear program. The other was the state of affairs in Middle East and Gulf. I would say in terms of issues two issues which came up were obviously the non-proliferation and proliferation linkages and also terrorism came up in the context of the region west of India all the way to the Middle East.

In terms of regional issues again there were two big issues and a fair amount of time went into Afghanistan. Prime Minister spoke to the President about the development that happened since Prime Minister’s visit to the United States. As you know another round of developments is taking place, most recently the supply of wheat to Afghanistan through sea route and we are committed to a number of quick impact projects in the field of irrigation, we are moving forward towards looking housing needs for refugees in Afghanistan and we have offered training to Afghan in very wide range of areas. He also spoke about President Ghani’s visit to India that has taken place in between.

The other issue was the issue which was arising out of the violence in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and how and what we are doing. The American shared their thinking in that regard, so these were the two main regional issues.

Since we have had visits of Secretary, both Tillerson and Mathis in the recent months, this was a sort of evolving conversations between the two administrations. It has been few months since Prime Minister and President have met. So overall it was a very cordial, very constructive, very comfortable conversation between the two.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir, thank you Ma’am. We do realize that it is quite late in the evening but we can still take few question. We will not keep you on hold for long.

Question: Question is for Foreign Secretary, the quadrilateral thing that is something which has been talked about a lot and I am told that China also reacted to it indicating that China is not very happy and kind of warning the four countries about the quadrilateral meeting that has taken place and this reaction has come just after the noon from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What was basically the nature and extent of the first ever quadrilateral meeting that took place yesterday? And Second question to Secretary (East), you mentioned about the logistics in the defence sector, what is the nature exactly and the extent of cooperation, is this something similar to link with US or is it different from that?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: At the meeting today there was just a very passing mention of the quadrilateral which is really meeting of middle level officials. As many of you are aware that we do many pluri-lateral, multilateral meetings with a number of countries. So there was no more than a passing mention today.

As regards what you said I think I saw a comment from the Chinese Spokesperson because I think questions were asked to the Chinese Spokesperson. The question was asked by an Indian correspondent so the fact that if you ask a question you will get a response. I don’t there is anything particularly surprising. In terms of what we said, I think we will put up a statement after the meeting. I think the statement is there.

Secretary (East), Ms Preeti Saran: I’ll respond to the question but I think I will go back to just one more point and that was the presence of delegation on the Indian side on the table that was represented at the meeting of our Prime Minister with President Duterte and from their side he has his five senior most cabinet minister who were present in the meeting, so I just thought I would mention that very important point.

To respond to your question about MoU on Defence and Logistics. The MoU aims to provide a framework for enhancing and strengthening cooperation and coordination between the Defence Ministries of our two countries for mutual cooperation and logistic support and services and in the development and procurement of defence equipment and material. So really it is intended to permit logistics cooperation between armed forces for HDR purposes. It is a beginning of good cooperation and we look forward to strengthen it.

Question: Sir you spoke about the two leaders discussing the broad review of strategic landscape in Asia. Would you please elaborate because this is chain, he has been mentioning about India playing a greater role in Indo-Pacific region. This has been the theme in the ASEAN Summit also in the wake of China’s assertiveness. So when you talk about broad areas of strategic landscape in Asia, what does that exactly mean?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: I did elaborate. I think what I meant by strategic landscape was Korea, Middle East, Afghanistan and Myanmar so these were all examples of strategic landscape and I think as I said President also shared some impressions of his own visit. So that was really the content of the discussion.

Question: Does China figured in the talks?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: Well, you remember that President Trump did visit China.

Question: Foreign Secretary, I just wanted to know if there was a discussion about F16 as part of the Defence discussions and the Prime Minister talked about peace keeping in a very emphatic way in the speech to the Indian community. Given the fact that there are several other issues emerging in South East Asia, is there a consideration that India might like to send peace keeping forces or may be support peace keeping operations in some way or the other in South East Asia in the coming future?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: The answer to your first question is a no. The answer to your second question is, peace keeping is decided by UN mandates so the process for it is really for UN to decide where peace keepers go and then they ask troop contributing countries whether they are interested. So it is not us to take that call.

Question: A question for Foreign Secretary, related to quadrilateral any particular reason why a joint statement was not issued this time? Also when might be the next meeting of quad take place, where, when and at what level? Second question is to do with new terminology which has come into play Indo-Pacific as opposed to Asia Pacific, what might this change in terminology entail for India and is India willing to play more high profile high visibility role in the Indo-Pacific region?

Question: A couple of questions, one is the defence cooperation that you talked about the US President Trump, what is the nature of the conversation if you could tell us? And the other thing is the South Asia strategy that President Trump had outlined, after that it has been couple of months right now or more, now in the conversation did we get an assessment of President Trump on how it is shaping up, and just a question for Secretary (East). I was there at the BRICS Summit and after the joint statement you talked about the naming of the groups at the joint statement in Xiamen but after that China has still gone ahead and blocked the listing of Masood Azhar. How do you see whether that squares up what was discussed at Xiamen?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: We do many meetings with many groupings so I am completely sure why you would regard this as something different from meetings that have but whatever the reason, the meeting has taken place and in fact I was one of the few people from our side who attended it. This is part today of diplomacy which countries do. Different countries do quads, do trilateral, we do even plus one on Afghanistan, we do a number of trilaterals, other countries do that as well.

US does a number of trilaterals and quadrilaterals. Chinese also do a quadrilateral, Chinese do a quadrilateral with US by the way, Shanghai, US, Afghanistan and Pakistan and in fact they do a trilateral also with Japan and Korea so today if you look at diplomacy, diplomacy is not just multilateral and bilateral. There is a lot of space in between for different combinations which suit different players at different times on different issues. So this is today the changing nature of diplomacy and I would hope that all of you understand.

As regards to the levels that it would be done, it is done at Foreign Secretary level. WE have just had a meeting, why would I not have a meeting if I were to do other meeting, I just had a meeting at Joint Secretary Level so looking forward I would do another meeting as I have done this meeting.

On the Indo-Pacific, I am not sure I agree with the basis of your question that it is something new. My understanding is that this concept has been there for at least ten years, maybe more. I can refer to you books, Indian books among others, which have been pushing that so I don’t really share the assumption on which you asked the question.

On the Defence cooperation, your question was what did we discuss? We discussed defence cooperation. On the South Asia strategy, because Afghanistan was discussed, there was some exchange of notes on the changes that have taken place in Afghanistan. Obviously many of these changes are after August 21 i.e. after President Trump announced his policy.

Secretary (East), Ms Preeti Saran: On the question of terrorism, yes you are absolutely right that Xiamen Summit did have strong formulation on terrorism, on listing of terrorists on counter terrorism and we expect that all countries who have signed on this would adhere to it just as we would do.

Coming to tomorrow’s three summits, again I have to let you know that we have the 12th East Asia Summit. We will have Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) leaders and meeting and we will have the ASEAN Summit.

Certainly I am aware discussions are still underway of the Chairman’s statement that will come out from the East Asia Summit and separate documents to get approved and adopted which would include a document on financing for terrorism and on countering-terrorism. So again this remains a very important subject for all the leaders whether it was the BRICS member countries or whether it is in the East Asia context and India certainly as being a victim of the terrorism, it came up even in the bilateral discussions with the President Duterte. He certainly wants to work with the entire international community to handle this scourge. I think we need a collective action and no double standards absolutely in fighting this menace.

Question: President Trump has already traveled to South Asian countries, did Prime Minister Modi renew his invitation for President Trump to visit India? Is it supposed to happen soon, can we expect it in the next few months? And just one small question which is just an amplification of what you said on the quad and Indo-Pacific. You spoke about several regional issues being discussed but only on Indo-Pacific, did Mr. Trump share his views, because Secretary of State was quite upbeat about this formulation that India has a central role to play and he sees India and United States to bring the stability in the region?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: Yes, the Prime Minister did reiterate his invitation to President Trump. You know as for the foreign visits it is done through the process of diplomatic consultations so as and when we fix the date for visit we will certainly let you know.

On the issue of Indo-Pacific, again, some of what I am discussing almost all the specific situations that I have enumerated to you fall within this so again I would repeat to you we had a broader discussion then we had specific discussion. WE had a discussion on Korea, we had a discussion on Myanmar, we had a discussion on Middle East, we had a discussion on Afghanistan. We discussed for 45 minutes and there are a lot of things that we discussed in 45 minutes. So it was a very expansive discussion on all the issues because when leaders meet, they largely discuss what is contemporary i.e. what has just happened in the last few weeks or months which in a sense are update on what they discussed in the previous meeting. They are not going to go through what they have already discussed. These four issues came up because all of them are very contemporary and because of being of that nature they find attention.

Question: Specifically anything on Rohingya issue?

Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: I told you they discussed the violence and consequences of violence in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you friends. With this we come to the end of this special briefing.

(Concludes)

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