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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on Prime Minister's 3rd day engagements in Manila (November 14, 2017)

November 15, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you all for coming to this special briefing session on day three of Prime Minister’s visit to Philippines. It was a hectic day several bilateral meetings plus India-ASEAN and East Asia Summit as well. I have with me Secretary (East) who will be briefing you all on what transpired in the bilateral meetings as well as in the summits. I also have our Ambassador to ASEAN Suresh K Reddy and Jt. Secretary ASEAN, Anurag Bhushan. Over to Secretary (East) now.

Secretary (East), Ms. Preeti Saran: Thank you and good evening and I am sorry we have to leave for the airport so this would be a bit of rushed briefing but what I want to share with you that we are all going back to Delhi and we will be available to brief you on details of what we have done in course of our trip to Manila.

I have already briefed you yesterday about the program elements of today and it being a very hectic day. Prime Minister has been in bilaterals since morning till lunch time and then after lunch there was an informal leader’s lunch of the East Asia Summit leaders followed by three back to back summits, the East Asia Summit, the RCEP leaders meeting and then the 15th India-ASEAN Summit. I’ll go backwards because it is still fresh in my mind therefore its best for me to go backwards. I’ll begin with the 15th India-ASEAN Summit which we have just completed.

Yesterday I told you what the items on the agenda were and really they were on the Plan of Action that we have with the ASEAN and series of activities that have been planned as part of our celebration of 25th anniversary of India-ASEAN relations. So in that context when the summit took place today, all the leaders of the ASEAN member countries very warmly welcomed our Prime Minister for this particular summit.

Prime Minister invited all the ten leaders of the ASEAN member countries for a commemorative summit that will be held on 25th of January and then he invited them to be the Chief Guests for our Republic Day celebrations on 26th January 2018. He said that he invited them on behalf of 1.2 billion people of our country and informed them that a very warm welcome awaited them. In response all the ASEAN leaders thanked our Prime Minister for this invitation and very graciously accepted this invitation, so that was really the high point of our summit discussions today.

Yesterday I did mention to you about the series of activities that we plan before the summit. I have perhaps failed to mention that apart from these high point related summit there were activities that have been held in the course of this year in other ASEAN countries, for example there were two major business summits that were held in Bangkok in Thailand as well as in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In addition this was the 50th anniversary His Majesty Sultan of Brunei’s accession to the Sultanate and this was celebrated with a festival of India so likewise in Vietnam we are celebrating the 45th anniversary of our establishment of diplomatic relations as we celebrate 25 years of our ASEAN India friendship.

So really a lot of activities have taken place in other ASEAN member countries as well. Even as we plan our Connectivity Summit that would be held on 11-12 December and a major business summit that will be held on 22-24 January just in the run-up to India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit.

Even as our leaders reviewed the state of the relationship in the interventions and the response all the ASEAN leaders conveyed their deep sense of satisfaction at the very robust implementation of the three pillars of our cooperation i.e. political security, economic and cultural. Specifically in the context of our economic relationship leaders realized that in spite of very robust growth in trade and investment, both ways, there was immense potential that we could do better.

Another important element of the discussions today was the focus that all the ASEAN leaders and our Prime Minister gave on the importance of connectivity i.e. whether it is connectivity by land through ongoing projects, whether it is soft connectivity through various MoUs that are under discussion including maritime connectivity and air connectivity or people to people connectivity.

In the context of people to people connectivity you would recall that yesterday when the opening ceremony was held there was a special dance drama performance of the Ramayan. Coincidentally today when the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Cambodia in his intervention once again invoked the theme of Ramayan as a very important historical, civilizations connect between India and the ASEAN countries and he said that Ramayan to date is performed not just in India but in all of the ASEAN countries.

Hon’ble Prime Minister, in fact, proposed that ASEAN troops should be invited to do their own rendition of the Ramayan as part of our commemorative celebrations. And I would like to share with you that our Prime Minister has warmly welcomed that proposal and we would definitely be including this as an important component, the Ramayan linkage and the celebration of this common heritage. So we would invite Ramayan troops from all of the ASEAN countries to perform as part of these celebrations.

There could be other details that I could share with you subsequently. Since we have to move in next ten minutes so I’ll quickly wind up. I’ll move on to the RCEP leaders meeting. Because of shortage of time I’ll just draw your attention to a statement that has been adopted by the leaders of the RCEP countries in which there is a guidance and a direction has been given to the negotiators on how to move RCEP forward. I think it balances the perspective of all the leaders so it will really give you the latest update of where RCEP member countries stand as far as RCEP itself is concerned but I have to say that in all Prime Minister’s interventions he once again reiterated India’s commitment to RCEP and the need for a balanced outcome from the RCEP negotiations. And this is something that other leaders also articulated in the course of the discussions.

I’ll quickly move on to the East Asia Summit where four agreements were finally adopted with the Chair’s statement and those are available with you. Our Prime Minister had an opportunity to also make an intervention along with the India-ASEAN Summit that just concluded. This was also our Prime Minister’s fourth East Asia Summit. You would recall the he attended his first summit Nay Pyi Taw in 2014 followed Kuala Lumpur in 2015 and then last year it was in Laos and then it is here in Manila. It is also his first visit to Manila, I have already briefed you about that one.

Prime Minister congratulated President Duterte for his very able leadership of ASEAN and the ASEAN led summits and ASEAN led processes. He conveyed his support for Philippines’ fight against terrorism in Marawi. He also welcomed EAS adopting two very important statements on countering ideological narratives and propaganda as well as financing of terrorism and these are two separate documents that have been adopted by all the East Asia Summit leaders. Just to convey to you the importance not just the subject has for India, of course it has a special importance for us because we have been victims of terrorism for the last three decades but the fact that now it is being recognized globally and it is important for regional peace and security to counter the scourge and menace of terrorism including cross-border terrorism.

There was, of course, because of the recent developments in the Korean peninsula our Prime Minister also shared the same concerns that other leaders had about DPRK’s pursuit of its missile and nuclear weapons and then called upon to isolate for its international obligations and called for complete verification and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

He also pointed out it was important that North Korea’s proliferation links must be investigated and to hold into account parties who have supported these unlawful programs. Our Prime Minister also stressed on the importance of safe, secure and free navigation in the Indo-Pacific region and called for adherence to rule of law and international obligations including respect for UNCLOS.

The role of blue economy was recognized by all the leaders especially that there are these two oceans, the Indo-Pacific that link us together with this region and the importance of developing the blue economy in a connected and coordinated fashion. In this context Vietnam would be hosting a seminar in collaboration with India and other ASEAN countries specifically to discuss the importance and the role of blue economy and how we can make that important.

There were a series of bilaterals that have been held in the course of the day. Prime Minister had a lounge meeting with the Chinese Premier, I was not present there so may subsequently Raveesh can answer questions on that. I have a brief read out of his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. In addition to that he had meetings with Prime Minister of Australia, Prime Minister of Vietnam, His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei and the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

We are running out of time so I’ll just quickly run through the bilaterals. As far as India-Japan is concerned the talks revolved around following points. One was economic cooperation especially focused on major projects including the Dedicated Freight Corridor and the Bullet Train and then the second point that was discussed was the implementation of commitments undertaken during high level visits including skilling of institutes and language training and liberalization of the visa regime.

Third issue that was discussed was political and security views exchanged on regional issues and developments and the finally an important fourth point that was part of the discussions was connectivity initiatives including an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor. So this is as far as our Prime Minister’s meeting with Prime Minister of Japan is concerned.

With the Prime Minister of Australia, you would recall that Prime Minister had hosted Prime Minister Turnbull in April earlier this year and later our External Affairs Minister had hosted the Foreign Minister of Australia during a Foreign Office dialogue when they had also signed the Solar Alliance. In today’s meeting they exchanged views on the situation in the region. They talked the importance of cooperation in countering terrorism and terror financing. Our Prime Minister acknowledged and thanked the Prime Minister for Australia’s signing and inclusion in the International Solar Alliance. Their process of ratification is still undergoing.

Australia Business Week and India Economic Strategy, now these are two initiatives that were announced when Prime Minister Turnbull had visited India in fact subsequently in the month of August-September a 150 member business delegation led by the Trade Minister had visited India for a very successful business week in India.

There is a special India-Economic Strategy under the chairmanship of former Foreign Secretary of Australia Mr. Peter Verghese which is underway. Just to give you importance that Australia attaches to its business and trade relations with India. They did discuss the current and ongoing discussions on CICA where there is a need for a balanced outcome to include trade in goods, services and investment.

Our Prime Minister also thanked Prime Minister Turnbull for the courtesies that have been extended to six all women member Navy expedition that is circumnavigating through Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa. It has reached Australia where they have been given a very warm welcome. They have then moved on to New Zealand and in fact it was again taken up and informed to the Prime Minister of New Zealand as well. So this is what as far as the meeting with Prime Minister of Australia is concerned.

As far as basic points of discussion with Vietnam are concerned, both leaders expressed extreme satisfaction at the state of our bilateral relations and our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. You would recall that our relations were elevated to this Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in September during Prime Minister’s landmark and very successful visit last year.

Vietnamese Prime Minister thanked India for its support in socio-economic development and of course our Prime Minister in turn thanked Vietnam for its exemplary role as the country coordinator for India within the ASEAN processes. Both leaders expressed satisfaction at the level of our defence cooperation particularly our Navy to Navy cooperation including the very successful implementation of the $ 100 million Line of Credit out of which offshore patrol boats would be constructed. There is a second line of credit which was announced and discussions are underway.

Both leaders also talked in terms of importance of connectivity, on our very successful oil exploration in Vietnamese waters by Indian companies. They also talked about deepening of cooperation in all other areas of mutual interests including peaceful uses of nuclear energy and of course our space program. Once again Prime Minister reiterated to the two ASEAN leaders, Prime Minister of Vietnam and His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei, personally once again conveyed the invitation for the commemorative summit in January, which they both very graciously accepted.

Prime Minister when he met His Majesty, The Sultan of Brunei, he also congratulated him for the Golden Jubilee of his Sultanate. Again as I said His Majesty confirmed his participation. He talked in terms of deepening cooperation in the Oil & Gas sector, in the Pharmaceutical sector including through investments by Indian companies.

His Majesty invited our Prime Minister to visit Brunei specifically mentioning a very very vibrant Indian diaspora. It’s small in number but it is very vibrant and he himself mentioned that he has been greatly impressed by the contribution that they have made to the economy and the very positive contribution in other spheres. So that was a very important component.

With the Prime Minister of New Zealand, I’ll quickly give you these four points. The importance was that you know that she has been recently elected as the new Prime Minister of New Zealand. This is the first opportunity for our Prime Minister to meet with the new Prime Minister of New Zealand so our Prime Minister very warmly congratulated her for her election, mentioned the importance of the Indian diaspora’s presence in New Zealand and the importance of greater collaboration especially the need for New Zealand becoming an important destination for, you know that they could use Bollywood. Already Indian cinema has been an important source of encouraging tourism from India to New Zealand and that was reiterated.

Our Prime Minister recalled the Padma Vibhushan that was given to Edmund Hillary who was household name in India. These are people to people contacts. Of course the Indian students community issue was taken up in the sense that yes more self-financed because New Zealand is a democracy. It is an English speaking country, it had the potential, like several other countries, to attract more Indian students into New Zealand. Talked about CICA, and a balanced outcome to come out of Goods, Service and Investments.

Both in the case of Australia and New Zealand, we also talked about the commonality of cricked, commonality of us being part of the Commonwealth Nations. Prime Minister suggested deepening cooperation in the renewable energy sector and related fields and both the Prime Ministers, as in our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of New Zealand invited each other to visit their respective countries. I’ll stop here.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: We just have time maybe one or two questions.

Question: Something on the meeting with Chinese Premier.

Secretary (East), Ms. Preeti Saran: We don’t have the readout. I did mentioned that I don’t have the read out of that. I’m aware that they have met.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You see, as Secretary (East) mentioned it was in the nature of a lounge meeting and what happens is that between any two summits there is a break. So during the break all the leaders, they go to the lounge. So nobody is there except the leaders. So when you are there then you of course talk to other leaders as well and as we indicated to you yesterday as well that Prime Minister met several leaders in the process. Today also he met many leaders after the conclusion of the India-ASEAN Summit and between summits as well when he used to go to the lounge he got a chance to meet many leaders including the Chinese Premier. None of us were there, it was in the leader’s lounge so I’m not able to guess what exactly transpired in the discussions.

Question: In the ASEAN Summit, did the ten ASEAN members or India discussed or raised the issue of Rohingya, the violence in the Rakhine province and if I may just ask, during the India-Australia bilateral, did the Australian side raised the issue of or reiterated interest in joining the Malabar Exercises?

Secretary (East), Ms. Preeti Saran: Not bilaterally, it was not raised this time. These meetings are back to back so really there is not too many details however as far as the Rakhine issue is concerned, it was a topic of discussion in the East Asia Summit. Our Prime Minister also articulated our well known position that would be available to you on the website. So that was definitely an issue. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you all.

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