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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary(West) during PM's visit to UK

April 19, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good afternoon friends and welcome to this special briefing from London. This briefing is on Prime Minister’s visit to the UK and his participation in the Commonwealth Summit. I apologize for the delay mainly because of the late finish of the meetings and also partly because we were trying to put our thoughts together on the engagement of the day. I have with me Secretary (West), Smt. Ruchi Ghanshyam, I also have with me Jt. Secretary (UNP), Shri Rudrendra Tandon.

They will take us through Prime Minister’s different engagements throughout the day on the Commonwealth Summit, his participation and also his interventions. There were several bilateral meetings which took place. We will also share with you details of the number of the meetings which happened between Prime Minister and leaders of other Commonwealth countries. With this I now invite Secretary (West) to brief the media.

Secretary (West), Smt. Ruchi Ghanshyam:
Thank you so much Raveesh. Once again a very warm welcome to all of you and again let me apologize for keeping you waiting. I think Raveesh has already explained to you how we got held up.

Today the Prime Minister participated in the executive session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. This is the formal part of the meeting of the Summit and tomorrow the leaders will meet in a retreat format. The overall theme of this summit is "Our Common Future” and under this broad theme the Heads of Governments discussed several issues that are of concern to the members of the Commonwealth.

It won’t be possible for me to go in detail over all the different issues but broadly speaking the issues fall under four categories. These would be, the strengthening of democracy and rule of law, the state of the international trading system and what commonwealth members should be doing together to cope with the crisis in the international trading system. The third broad theme was centered around achieving the SDGs and climate action that must be undertaken and fourthly security issues of particular concern to the commonwealth countries.

In his interventions the Prime Minister highlighted a number of important issues and primarily the area of interest, as you would appreciate, was the scene pertaining to sustainable development goals and climate action. The overall objective of the Prime Minister’s participation at this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018 signals our stepped up engagement with Commonwealth. And it conveys India’s desire to see the Commonwealth increasingly increase its focus on developing countries priorities both in international advocacy activities that it undertakes and in assistance that it delivers to its members.

Additionally the Prime Minister’s participation also conveys that we would like to see further focus on the commonwealth on the small states, small island developing states, and development issues concerning small states as well as India’s affinity states falling in these categories as well as the broad membership of the Commonwealth.

This was achieved through the number of interventions Prime Minister made during the day and the broad areas of announcement that the Prime Minister made in his interventions under various sub-themes can fall under these 4-5 categories.

One was to enhance our contribution to the Commonwealth fund for technical cooperation and we basically announced the doubling of our contribution. We were also going to look at ways of finding ways of assisting in small projects that we could do for Commonwealth countries through interaction with them at New York, our permanent mission to the UN. Then we are also doubling our contribution to the Commonwealth Small States offices in New York and Geneva so this would help them to enhance their capacity in dealing with multilateral issues of concern to them.

We are focusing on capacity building in an area of great interest to Commonwealth states. As you would realize, the broad membership, the large membership of the Commonwealth consists of Small Island developing states. Moreover a number of other Commonwealth countries are also coastal countries, so ocean related issues are of great concern to Commonwealth countries. So we are going to help build the capacity for our Commonwealth friends through the Commonwealth Secretariat by organizing capacity building training programs at the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa. So that is one important area that we will be developing through the year.

Another announcement which the Prime Minister made which I understand is invoking a lot of interest is in the area of youth and sports. Youth and Sports are cross cutting issues, youth is the future of all our countries and sports help in general in bringing people together and building the next future generation. So with that objective, with the help of BCCI, we would be organizing training for 30 young boys and 30 young girls under the age of 16 in cricket. So this is another area I think which has evoked a lot of interest and enthusiasm from all over.

With that I think as you can hear that my voice is just about to go, I would pass the microphone to our Jt. Secretary. Thank you.

Jt. Secretary (UNP), Shri Rudrendra Tandon: I don’t have very much to add but basic thrust of Prime Minister’s intervention in the Commonwealth was the idea that we need to gear up taking into account the fact that different members in the Commonwealth have different abilities but it is important to come together to take this collective action because that is the only way in which you will actually achieve anything on the ground.

The idea was to step up our engagement with Commonwealth platform particularly because it lends itself particularly well to furthering the interest of a category of developing countries which are of particular interest to India vis-à-vis small states.

This is based on the way we look at multilateralism in general and broader effort this is being undertaken to step up our engagement in a a large number of multilateral platforms. You would have noticed that we are stepping up engagement in the SCO, in the ASEAN so you should look at our stepped up engagement in Commonwealth as part of this broader exercise. The Commonwealth is of particular interest from that perspective because it lends itself very well to advocating internationally the interests of small states, a category of developing countries that are of particular interest to India given the fact that we have very friendly ties with them and we do feel that for a well functioning international system you have to take special actions to cater to the special vulnerabilities they face by virtue of their small size. This was their basic underline idea in the interventions PM made in this segment on attaining sustainable goals and climate action.

The PM also indicated the fact that we will do our bit in the Commonwealth. India was willing to take on a greater effort within the Commonwealth and you head the various stepped up contributions that we are now in a position to make. The broad idea behind all these contributions is to enhance the Commonwealth Secretariat’s ability to deliver tailor-made practical assistance to this category of states.

The Prime Minister also used the presence of the other Heads of Governments and had a series of bilateral meetings. These were of course private conversations so I don’t think I can get into details of it but there were a large number of countries, they are of the category of the states with whom we want to enhance our engagement. That would be the larger number of bilateral meetings he had but I can list out, I mean you would have heard from JS(XP) all the countries that he has met already, so I don’t have to list them out.

If there are any questions we can take them.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Ma’am, thank you Rudrendra. On the bilateral the meetings let me share with you that the Prime Minister had basically two different categories of meetings. There were some pull aside meetings and some meetings took place in a proper seated format.

The countries with whom the Prime Minister met, if I can just list it out, with the Prime Minister of Australia, Bangladesh, Trinidad & Tobago, Mauritius, Seychelles, The Gambia, Fiji, St. Lucia, Solomon Island, Uganda, Kiribati, Antigua and Barbuda. As I said there were several brief interactions when you are participating in a multilateral meeting. We have time to take few questions.

Question: As you have mentioned that the Commonwealth platform, the maritime issues and the security related issues were discussed. Was Pakistan sharing the same stage at all was discussed in terms of security and other issues and in terms of maritime and the domains you mentioned, was the South China Sea discussed at all?

Jt. Secretary (UNP), Shri Rudrendra Tandon: You know the thing is that the Commonwealth is not a platform where you discuss these sorts of security issues. Usually the issues that are discussed in the commonwealth are which come under the category of security are the issues that have been discussed within the commonwealth as things like armed crime, the things like drug-trafficking.

You see a lot of these countries because of their small size and jurisdiction fall easy prey to criminal networks and catering to that because that acts as a hurdle to their economic development, it acts as a hurdle to their integration with the larger international system. So when we approach security issues within the commonwealth it is from that perspective. Larger political issues are not discussed in the Commonwealth and that is the tradition of this platform.

Question from CNN-News18: You mentioned pull asides, did that include Pakistani Prime Minister?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:: I did not mention Pakistan either in the pull asides or in the bilateral meetings. So no meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister took place.

Question Contd.: Is there any plan for tomorrow?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No

Question Contd.: Were they in close proximity and then not talked?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I said what I had to. No meeting took place with the Pakistani Prime Minister. There is no plan to have any meeting either.

Question from ABP: Could you give us little details at least, the subjects touched on during the discussion between Prime Minister Modi and Sheikh Hasina because that is of direct interest to our papers?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Let me confirm the fact that none of us were in the meeting but I can share with you the broad contours of the discussion. I think a lot of time was spent in discussing the developmental cooperation between India and Bangladesh and also the follow up issues which emanated from the visit of the two leader to each other’s countries i.e. Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh’s visit to India.

So there were issues which were discussed and agreed during those meetings. There are joint statements so a lot of focus was basically how to go about implementing the decision flowing out of these meetings as mainly the focus was on developmental cooperation.

Question from Rajya Sabha TV: When the Heads of Government were discussing what was the orientation because now Britain is now out of European Union and there is a need of, as I was hearing from Theresa May and also from Prime Minister, there is a need of easing of trade among the countries. So is there any emphasis to create a trade block of Commonwealth nations or if some more cohesion has to be given, what are the prime things that is going to be discussed or that is going to be the outcome of this Commonwealth Summit?

Jt. Secretary (UNP), Shri Rudrendra Tandon: That is a very nice question. The fact that there is an effort to promote intra-commonwealth trade and investment has always been an aspirational issue for long term within the Commonwealth. However the issue that is being tackled currently is a more pressing issue.

I don’t know if you know that the background of Commonwealth but it is a 53 member grouping but most of them are small countries, small states. They are called small jurisdictions. Small jurisdiction have very unique problems and all these problems add up to a lack of access with the international systems. So the more pressing problem that is being tackled in this area of trade and investment is to find practical measure to improve to their access to the international system.

A lot of the stepped engagement we are doing, you would have heard, one of the thing we are doing is stepping up of our engagement to the small state offices engagement program. It is to assist this category of small countries to engage in the WTO. You would have heard of an older platform where India has contributed in the past and was launched during this summit, the Trade Finance Access Facility.

The idea behind this contribution to the trade finance facility is again to assist Commonwealth Small Jurisdictions to access international trade finance so that they can participate in international trade. So it is activities of this nature that are being prioritize with of course the long term objective of having some sort of dynamic intra-Commonwealth trade and investment. But at this junction the main emphasis is on handling these small pressing and immediate problems.

Question from Times Now: You just mentioned about the use of cricket. If you could just throw a bit more light about how we plan to engage and if I could ask about the Queen’s statement regarding her sincere wish to have Prince Charles heading the Commonwealth and whether India has anything to say on that?

Jt. Secretary (UNP), Shri Rudrendra Tandon: On cricket, actually the thing is one of the cross-cutting issues within the Commonwealth is youth and gender. When I say that it means that in all the activities that the Commonwealth wants to undertake as collective actions, they want to emphasize youth, they want to emphasize the participation of women.

So cricket being a very unique game and much played in the Commonwealth, the idea was to provide opportunities to young girls and young boys to come to India, to train in world class facilities, have an opportunity to interact with other young boys and girls from the Commonwealth and basically lay the network for what will be the future generation of the Commonwealth. So it was one of t hose fun activities that we thought of because it seems so appropriate for the Commonwealth context. But the idea is very much to promote the youth activity in the sporting area because for developing countries this is a very good activity for nation building, for development, for human resource development.

On the second, that is not an issue that was going to be discussed. Now these are issues that are typically discussed in a different setting. This is the formal setting, development issues confronting the Commonwealth were the main emphasis so we cannot prejudge what the Heads of Governments will be discussing at their retreat.

Question from ANI: We have seen yesterday there is some anti-India element group has torn Indian flag. So is there any update on it.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: We are deeply anguished with the incident involving our national flag at Parliament square yesterday. The moment the incident came to our notice the matter was immediately taken up promptly and strongly with the UK side. The UK side has regretted the incident at the highest level. The flag was immediately replaced. We expect action including legal action against the people who were involved in the incident and also the people who were responsible for instigating the incident.

Question from PTI: We were informed that the Prime Minister would be addressing the executive session during the second plenary session. If you could highlight some of the remarks he made when he was addressing the other members of the Commonwealth.

Jt. Secretary (UNP), Shri Rudrendra Tandon: I don’t know if you are aware of the architecture of this formal session but there were broad themes, as the Secretary explained, that were discussed. So the Prime Minister was particularly focused on the theme dealing with, which is commonly referred to as Sustainability but essentially it was in the area of the type of collective climate action that the Commonwealth needs to take and the type collective action we need to take to attain SDGs because we need to.

The basic message that the Prime Minister brought was that we have to accept the fact that within the Commonwealth we have differential abilities. Not everyone is the same and therefore this principle that is often discussed at the international level of common but differentiated responsibility should be taken not as a kind of legal principle but it is a moral principle that we need to act upon for the simple reason that we live in a world today which is highly networked and we are basically going to prosper together or we are going to fail together. And unless we take the common but differentiated responsibility not as some sort of legal obligation coming out of the UNFCCC or some convention but as a moral principle that will undermine all global action. So this was the basic message.

But of course we have some specific ideas like the International Solar Alliance. This is one of the most forward looking initiatives that one can take particularly in the area of affordable renewable energy which is vital for any sort of sustainable development pattern of development. So that was the second message that you must join, there are many Commonwealth countries who have already joined the ISA, but those who are not should join because this is a useful collective action that we need to take not just in the Commonwealth but globally.

The other interventions were focused on the types of stepped up engagement that India would take and logic behind it that one of the things that he emphasized the fact when you do assistance to developing countries then it cannot be the assistance that you think that the developing country needs. But rather it should be the assistance that is required by the person who is requesting that assistance that is the important message in the development world because we are living in the era of shrinking fund and there is a tendency to do, you know do the agenda linked extra-budgetary contribution rather than doing normal contribution to an organization that renders assistance on demand.

So this is the significance behind our stepped up cooperation for the commonwealth fund for the technical cooperation because this is common part of goal within the organization that enhances the secretariat’s ability, the commonwealth secretariat’s ability to render demand driven assistance rather than donor driven assistance. And accentuating that ability within the commonwealth secretariat is important if you really want to enhance or revitalize the commonwealth platform which is the idea behind all this.

I think that broadly covers the message that the PM would have delivered, of course, he would have done much more eloquently than I have. But I hope that summarizes it.

Question: ………………… (Inaudible)……………………

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You see, at the beginning I made it very clear that this briefing is on the commonwealth summit but still I would try to answer your query.

You see, when you discuss an MoU or an agreement there is a process which is involved. And sometimes the process takes a bit of time before it can be concluded. But unfortunately on this occasion the process could not be completed on time for it to be ready. And therefore you know, I mean, this is not the end. And I think there will be occasions where it can be done.

Question from India Today: It was about the Ayurveda MoU to be signed. Has that been done? Has that been initiated?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Yesterday, we had a briefing on the Prime Minister’s bilateral visit. The Foreign Secretary was here and he did make the announcement. I request you to look at either the briefing or the transcript of the yesterday’s briefing. That will answer your question.

Question from Eastern Eye: The Prime Minister earlier this week, the British Prime Minister, has apologized and regretted the colonial era legislations on same sex relationships. Was this something that came up in the commonwealth? Because she said she would prevail on the heads of state.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Could you repeat that? Could you repeat your question for the benefit of the…?

Question from Eastern Eye: The British Prime Minister earlier this week, she expressed her regret about colonial era legislation around same sex relationships. Was that something that came up? And what’s India’s view on that?

Jt. Secretary (UNP), Shri Rudrendra Tandon: I don’t think that. I am not aware that if it came up or not because it didn’t come up when I was around. India’s view on it, I don’t think this is the place where you would get India’s view on it.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I think this is the query which you would have to address to the UK side whether this matter was raised by them at that forum. I think this is the issue that you would have to address to their side to get a response. We had to share what our Prime Minister spoke, which we have already done.

If there are no other queries then we will…

Thank you so much for joining. Thank you so much Secretary. Thank you Rudrendra for coming to this briefing.

And thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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