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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) during Prime Minister's visit to Singapore (June 1, 2018)

June 02, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good afternoon and a very warm welcome to special briefing in Singapore. PM arrived yesterday on his final leg of three nation tour. To give you a sense of what happened since yesterday I have with me Secretary (East) Smt. Preeti Saran. I also have High Commissioner of India to Singapore Jawed Ashraf and Jt. Secretary (South) Manish. Over to Secretary (East) now.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Good afternoon friends and thank you for kindly waiting for us. We have just come from Nanyang University. Prime Minister arrived yesterday

………….. Inaudible ………………..

As you know the background of this visit is that Prime Minister has accepted Prime Minister Lee’s invitation to deliver the keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue which is a very important …………….. Organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

It is Prime Minister’s third visit to Singapore, second official visit. He had come for the first time in March 2015 for Prime Minister …………… funeral and then his official visit in the month of November.

In the meeting with the Prime Minister as well as with the President both leaders conveyed their deep appreciation to our Prime Minister for accepting invitation to deliver the keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue.

The discussions that took place were really against four pillars of India Singapore relations which are based on our strategic partnership focusing on strategic and security issues, economic issues, technological relation which is a very important component of not just the official discussions but a lot of programs were held at Marina Bay Science Convention Center as well as Nanyang University and of course human and cultural relations, once again a very important component of our relationship with Singapore.

Later today our Prime Minister will deliver the much awaited Shangri La Dialogue lecture where he is expected to share his vision and strategy for peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and also articulate his own vision of SAGAR i.e. Security and Growth for All in the Region.

Prime Minister in his discussions with the leadership conveyed our strong commitment to the region and to our intention to play a balanced, constructive and cooperative role in advancing peace and stability and economic cooperation in the entire region.

I think one big achievement of our discussions today was completion of the second round of ………. With Singapore. The CICA round will of course help give a big boost to our bilateral trade and investment with Singapore which is already the largest investor in India and our bilateral trade with them is very strong.

Our Prime Minister reaffirmed our support for ASEAN’s unity, centrality in the region and its leadership in the region. Yesterday when Prime Minister was there at the exhibition he had launched Rupay, BHiM, UPI based payment app which would help workers to transfer money to India. So it is really globalization of Bhim and other such apps and that was deeply appreciated in the discussions with the Prime Minister Lee as well.

There was talk of review of the air services agreement that we have with Singapore. This is primarily because nearly 500 flights fly from Singapore to 16 Indian cities and the fact that civil aviation sector has to improve much more so there is a need to do so. There was also talk of collaboration between India and Singapore in start-up sector, technology and innovation and in that context Prime Minister offered that we could as two governments sit together and organize a Hackathon, pose question to young start-ups, young innovators, young entrepreneurs and let them come out with solutions that are affordable, that are cheap that are of relevance. This particular suggest of hosting a Hackathon jointly between India and Singapore was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Lee, he said that it was a very good idea and we will certainly work towards organizing such Hackathon.

Both sides, both leaders also talked about very strong historical, cultural and human linkages which were highlighted and you will see that tomorrow when the Prime Minister visits three cultural sites, a mosque, a temple and a Buddhist temple as well. All three religions have very strong linkages. They all came to Singapore from India and these in fact symbolize the aspect of our close cultural linkages.

Prime Minister informed Prime Minister Lee about his proposal to formulate a data policy of India in which India would certainly have discussions and interactions using Singapore’s experience to be factored in when we formulate our own data policy.

Skill development was yet another very important component in fact it is an ongoing area of very strong cooperation between India and Singapore. Singapore has in fact helped set up a few centers of skill development in Delhi, Guwahati, Udaipur focused on tourism and it remains an ongoing important aspect to impart training to our civil servants and so really Singapore’s contribution in human resource development is an important component or our relationship.

Our Prime Minister and Prime Minister Lee also discussed the need for an early conclusion of RCEP negotiations which should be fair, should be comprehensive and balanced. Youth was a very special mention in the discussions and I have already mentioned the discussion that took place about jointly organizing the Hackathon and that is where the participation of youth comes. Involving students from both the countries was once again reiterated and discussed.

A whole lot of MoUs, agreements and launches have taken place yesterday. Today following the bilateral delegation level talks there were eight government to government level MoUs that were signed in the areas focusing on skill development, defence, on nursing, I have just got the list here, which is already available on our website.

Yesterday in Prime Minister’s presence there were 14 G2G and G2B MoUs that were signed and four launches took place. One was of course of Rupay, the other was Bhim UPI and the launching of a New India Innovation Hub.

Just now as the Prime Minister returned from the Nanyang Technological University, there were six MoUs that were exchanged in the presence of our Prime Minister. The Nanyang University visit was significant because Prime Minister ……………………. Which is perhaps, in terms of ranking, one of the best technological universities in Asia and the kind of working being done there is highly inspiring.

Prime Minister interacted with the Dean of the University, it was streamed live on Facebook, so it is all in the public domain so I will perhaps not repeat that but I will certainly take you back to yesterday when following the launch of UPI, Rupay and Bhim, you heard the Prime Minister address the Business and CEOs meeting. I will not repeat the points that Prime Miniser made. He really articulated the immense changes and reforms that have taken place in India that have made a huge change in the economy and development of our country.

Addressing the Indian diaspora he talked about how uniquely placed they are as sincere citizens of this country to also be great ambassadors of heritage of India in Singapore.

Following that particular public address by Prime Minister our High Commissioner had hosted a round table in which he had invited 30 senior most and most prominent CEOs from Singapore and in that our Prime Minister had a very free and frank discussions with the CEOs who represented different sectors like agriculture, agro-processing, water, urban infrastructure management, port and airport management.

The round table started with very free and unrestricted and frank discussions where our Prime Minister himself sought the views of these top CEOs, those who have already invested in India, as you know Singapore is our largest investor with $63 billion. I think one point that came out immediately was immense appreciation expressed by these CEOs to our Prime Minister about the number of reforms that he has taken personally which had in fact made a marked difference in the ease of doing business in India. And they have personally recalled and articulated their positive experiences as a result of these changes that have been introduced. Then Prime Minister highlighted the reforms that had been undertaken, he talked about GST and also talked about the fact that India’s ranking improved by 42 places in the world in terms of ease of doing business.

Then he addressed the CEOs and also invited those companies who have still not operations and urged them to look at India differently from what their perceptions were earlier. He also invited companies for working in the field of agriculture and agro-processing as well as in supply chain management in this particular sector.

He encouraged companies working in the field of water management and treatment because it is something where Singapore has huge strength and something that we could learn from. Another point that emerged in the discussions was great appreciation for India’s talent, India’s capabilities in IT and IT enabled services and in that context Prime Minister mentioned that he planned to strengthen initiative of Digital India, something that he again ……………. He in his discussion with Prime Minister Lee as well and he invited companies to invest in Make in India Data Center.

He assured that government will soon be coming up with a Data Center policy. I will stop here and be happy to take questions.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Ma’am. Before we get into the question and answer session let me again mention the agreements which are available on our website. We have put out the press statement which was delivered by Prime Minister earlier this afternoon. We have put out the list of MoUs signed, we have also put out the list of B2B documents which were exchanged yesterday and PM’s address to the community is also available at the website and you can refer to them.

Question: This particular visit is also about deepening strategic content of the partnership. In this context the ongoing churn and the new developments in the South China Sea, issue of navigation, was it discussed during the talks. What is our position on that especially with regard to the US-China spar which is going on at this moment?

Question: I do not want to make you say anything that you don’t want to say, this is just an effort to understand the context. I heard a forum in which former Foreign Secretary Mr. Jaishankar was present and he indicated, I am following up, he indicated that there was some betrayal of some kind during 1962 and it seems like the Indian foreign policy establishment seems to consider the 1962 war as some sort of betrayal by Indian intentions by China. So how do you regard China which is a state as in foreign policy ………………………….

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Let me remind you once again that this briefing is about visit of Prime Minister to Singapore. So please restrict your questions to that topic only.

Question: There is this keynote speech that he is delivering at the Shangri La Dialogue. I am trying to get a sense of foreign policy establishment view. Of course he said what he said. ……………………. Since then he has taken several steps initiatives and this comes at a very sensitive time as my friend was saying. Thank you.

Question: How big is the role of China’s rising influence in this region influenced Prime Minister Modi’s recent trip. Is it because of the rising Chinese influence and in turn India trying to assert its influence as well?

Question: Civil aviation agreement has been long pending, when do you expect it to start? ……..

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Of course it is a request from Singapore but we also feel the need to increase civil aviation because as I told you apart from the fact there is potential for greater expansion even in our own country this civil aviation sector is going to come up in a very big way. You heard the views of prime minister yesterday, you also heard Prime Minister say about

Speaker 1: What PM was saying that you know we had 450 aircraft in country so far over these decades and in one year alone, all the airlines put together have ordered 900 aircrafts which will be delivered over a period of time that is just a reflection of the strong growth of aviation sector in India.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Taking that as a figure we are certainly interested in holding an early review of aviation talks. It is incumbent upon so to follow on the decisions taken by our leaders. We will be going back and share more details as they emerge.

The other three questions were more or less of the same nature about the purpose of this visit and is it something new that India is doing or has it always been there and about it being strategically where China has more influence and if that is a factor.

As far as India’s relations with China is concerned, I would again urge you to go back to what Prime Minister had articulated during his visit at the Nanyang University and I think that answers for itself. Good meeting that he has had with President Xi and the details of that are articulated in that particular address, so I will not comment here. I will restrict my response to India-Singapore relations which is a strategic partnership, you are absolutely right about that. In fact we have had very strong historical, cultural, civilizational linkages which is why I drew your attention to Prime Minister’s program tomorrow he will be visting three cultural sites which bring out strong connections with Singapore.

Prime Minister will also visit the Clifford Pier where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were scattered, showing the great deep sentiment of the people of Singapore at that time dating back 70 years from now so this strength in our relationship is not new. In more recent years certainly the strategic aspects of our relationship covers political, security, defence and very strong people to people ties. Prime Minister will be visiting the Changi Naval Base where he will be visiting a ship on a goodwill visit, so this shows we have the strongest, uninterrupted and longest navy to navy exercises that go on with Singapore. So it is not a recent relationship.

Likewise our economic, trade and investment relationship has been built up over the years, so it is an important partner for us. Singapore is in fact the first country with whom we negotiated the CICA and that has helped both sides in promoting trade and investment relationship.

Coming to the Indo-pacific about freedom of navigation etc. what India believes and let me not pre-empt what Prime Minister will say tomorrow, it is important that we listen to what he articulates but I can imagine given the fact that he is here in Singapore, Singapore is the current chair of ASEAN, the fact that he has repeatedly mentioned as he did during the ASEAN India Summit which was held in January earlier this year in Delhi that for us ASEAN centrality, ASEAN unity and ASEAN foremost presence in Indo-Pacific region is very important for us. This is something that is being appreciated by all the ASEAN countries. They have been very appreciative about our principled position on freedom of navigation, about the rules based system, about respect for international law. It is something that India subscribe to and adhere to and to something that we stand by.

Question: ……………………….. can I find out what are India’s immediate concerns still in terms of deepening existing relations with Singapore? What are some of the current challenges……………

Question: …………….. Air India seems to be not getting enough attraction in the government’s divestment program. Did …………… with Singapore being one of the likely investor or something like that

Question: As we all know that Tatas started this and Singapore Airlines earlier tried to get into India. Now since there is not much interest so is there a possibility that Singapore will try to help as we know Singapore ………………… is well regarded across the world.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: There are two questions civil aviation and airport infrastructure. Singapore companies have actively participated in a lot of projects in India including airport projects and this is an ongoing thing in which they are directly in touch with responsible state for building and commissioning of airports. As far as Air India, Singapore Airlines or any other airlines is concerned, yes we are aware that disinvestment of Air India is something of interest to the government and we are looking at partners. Certainly Singaporean entities are welcome to partner in that. Obviously I cannot anticipate what kind of discussions these entities would have, it is something to be directly checked with them.

What are the current challenges that CEOs raised etc.? Yes there was individual specific challenges they will be taking up with the government entities pertaining to their issue but basically I would say that what would be in general terms, I think we are looking at newer areas of collaboration, moving away from traditional to the more innovative areas. To grow, to develop you must innovateI think this is where technology will be coming up with affordable technologies suitable for India is something where Singapore companies will benefit given the scales of operations that they will have in a country like India.

Given the fact that the numbers of reforms that have taken place in India where it has become easier to make an entry into the Indian market and once you make an entry actually the dividends, the returns are immense. I would not call them challenges I would call them opportunities for Singapore companies to operate in India and for Indian companies would be to look at newer technologies to address our needs, you know India is a big market for example in terms of renewable energy and may look towards Singapore as an important partner. But I would definitely ask High Commissioner to elaborate.

High Commissioner of India in Singapore, Mr. Jawed Ashraf: First of all to speak of challenges would be fishing in the dark, This is a relationship ………………………..the real challenge in a sense is of harnessing this and to take it to greater levels as Secretary has already explained that we have a comprehensive partnership that has four pillars namely strategic, economic, innovation and cultural. This visit has in a sense taken us to a higher level in each of the pillars, India has strengthened each of the pillars. Where we are looking at together is how to react and relate with each other in the larger geopolitical context in this part of the world. I think we all have multiple relationships and we all have a common vision of peaceful, stable and prosperous region amidst all the challenges and transitions that are taking place. So one of the things that we of course discussed with each other is how to make this work and with other countries in institutional framework and in broader informal settings to be able to take this forward.

On the economic side really I would say that you would see the complementarities between India’s stake and Singapore’s strength. The potential is enormous as prime minister said that Singapore would be India’s next big frontier where all the transitions are taking place. Our real challenge therefore is how do we build that bridge and make it stronger. Of course in traditional areas of infrastructure, logistics, financial sector, skills development, port, real estate, urban development, these are sectors where they are present for a long time and this diversity was seen in the CEOs round table.

There is something new and exciting in this partnership and this is in the digital world and we are …….. where we think will be the key drivers of prosperity …………. And both countries have that ecosystem which can really produce some very fertile ground for collaboration in this area.

I think it is not just economic aspect to it, it is also about employment, it is also about generating entrepreneurship but this is also about global competitiveness and how it translates in this century into nation’s influence, nation’s prosperity.

Question:Is there any agenda about migrant workers in Singapore?

Question: ……………. Inaudible ………………………………

Question: What about connectivity initiatives, I am not talking about digital connectivity, for example Singapore is an enthusiastic backer of One Belt One Road, was there any convergence?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Specifically there were no discussions on any connectivity related projects. Given the fact that Singapore is an important logistics hub, the fact that Singapore companies are also helping build our airports and seaports. It would remain a very important partner on the subject of connectivity but in fact we are maritime neighbors in the Indo-Pacific region. So yes nothing was discussed but these are ongoing discussions that we have with them. Ours is actually a …….. relationship built entirely on a very strong positive agenda. We remain focused on a very strong positive agenda particularly the kind of programs PM has had yesterday, today and of course tomorrow gives us a sense of the key areas of future cooperation and we would like to stay focused on that.

On the specific questions on the migrant workers, I would request our High Commissioner to answer that.

High Commissioner of India in Singapore, Mr. Jawed Ashraf: Well I think they are two separate issues that we are talking about. One is about migrant workers and we are talking about ………………

Now the thing as far as migrant workers are concerned, they come vide Singapore’s domestic immigrations and their own well formed regulations. We haven’t come across any specific issue really related to come and work here in Singapore there is absolutely nothing that has come to our attention.

There is if anything always our interest in improving their ability to connect back with home, with India and one of the things therefore yesterday was done was this Unified Payment Interface based application. That is in order to give easy and convenient and cost effective for them to remit money back home. You see, they usually have one Sunday free and they have to go to all kind of money changers and they charge a lot of money. So this is a very convenient method and also internationalization of India’s Unified Payment Interface but the objective was to help the worker in remitting money. Our concern is always to improve the welfare, in fact State Bank of India is in the process of opening a remittance facility at one of the dormitories and we are awaiting the final approval from our own government for it. So our effort is always to look after their welfare.

Employment pass issue is a separate one which is part of what has been an ongoing negotiation of review of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement and this is something that we will always continue to monitor. There has been obviously improvement in the situation within the context of CICA but as we move into the next round as we have a joint working group on trade and investment we will continue to review our efforts is to ensure that our companies are able to operate here and conduct their business in a smooth and relatable manner.

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

(Concludes)

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