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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) in Bangkok on Prime Minister's visit to Thailand (May 30, 2013)

May 31, 2013

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good evening friends. Thank you very much for being patient with us. We thought we will come directly after the delegation-level talks and the banquet. So, we have just completed both those events about fifteen minutes ago and we have come directly.

I have here with me on my right, Secretary (East) Mr. Ashok Kantha and on his right is Ambassador Wadhwa, who is our Ambassador in Thailand. I will request Secretary (East) to make a few opening remarks about the entire visit. Following that the floor is open, you could ask him or Ambassador Wadhwa anything you would like about today or about India-Thailand relations and how we see it going from here onwards.

With those initial remarks I will ask Secretary (East) to speak.

Secretary (East) (Shri Ashok Kantha): Good evening.

As you know Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is on an official visit to Thailand. This happens to be his first bilateral visit to this country though he had come here earlier in a multilateral context for India-ASEAN Summit and for BIMSTEC Summit in 2004 and 2009. Last year, as you are aware, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand visited India twice, first in January as the Chief Guest for the Republic Day and then again in December for India-ASEAN Summit.

Today Prime Minister held official talks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the Government House. Talks were held in a very warm, cordial and cooperative atmosphere. I think the best thing I can do is to use Prime Minister’s own characterization of these talks. In his media statement he referred to his discussions with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as ‘very meaningful, productive and satisfying discussion on bilateral, regional and global issues of common interest’.

PM also presented a sapling of the sacred Bodhi tree from Bodh Gaya as a special gift to His Majesty the King as a symbol of our shared cultural heritage. He, in his media statement, characterized this as also representing blossoming of our relationship with Thailand. Thai side was very appreciative of this special gesture made by Prime Minister.

We have circulated the list of agreements which have been signed. As you know, we have concluded Extradition Treaty. We signed an MoU on Thailand-India Exchange Programme, an MoU on urban mapping, another MoU on archaeological atlas, an moU on exchange of intelligence related to money-laundering and terrorism financing, an MoU on establishment of Hindi Chair and Thammasat University, and a process-verbal for exchange of instrumentation of ratification of the Treaty on Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

I will briefly outline for you some of the thrust areas of discussion, some of the key takeaways coming out of this visit. One major pillar of this relationship is our engagement in the areas of political dialogue, security and juridical cooperation. Here the most important outcome is the signing of the Extradition Treaty which was in fact under discussion for nearly two decades as Prime Minister mentioned in his discussions with his Thai counterpart.

We already have in place an MLAT in criminal matters. Last year we had signed an agreement on exchange of sentenced prisoners, and formalities in that regard have been completed today. Also today we signed an MoU on exchange of financial intelligence relating to money-laundering and terrorism. Therefore, we have put in place the architecture for cooperation in the area of security, which is very important because as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra mentioned when you have greater connectivity the trans-national challenges also mount accordingly, so you need to put in place the requisite framework to deal with those challenges.

We have some cases pertaining to certain criminal elements where we have sought judicial assistance in extradition from our Thai friends. And today Prime Minister raised that issue during his discussions with his Thai counterpart. And in response Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra mentioned that the processing of those requests will be expedited. We hope with the new Extradition Treaty in place this area will make quicker progress.

Another aspect I would like to highlight is emphasis attached by both leaders to high-level exchanges between India and Thailand. Our Prime Minister repeatedly referred to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s landmark visit to India last year and her personal contribution to development of the relations between our two countries. He also referred to the forthcoming visits of our Defence Minister; Commerce, Industry and Textiles Minister; and Minister of External Affairs in the next two months. That shows the kind of importance that both sides are attaching to taking this relationship forward.

When we talk about the context of the relationship, it is important to posit it in the framework of strategic partnership that we have developed with, we have announced with, we have established with ASEAN in December last year. And bilateral framework also we are committed to take this relationship towards a strategic partnership.

On security side, both leaders referred to the fact that we are maritime neighbours and maritime security is an important preoccupation for us. Accordingly we have agreed to step up our cooperation with regard to maritime security as also deepen our defence cooperation through various means including training, joint exercises and other forms of cooperation. We are also looking at the possibility of collaboration in defence industry where Thai side has shown interest, especially during the visit of Defence Minister to India last year. This issue will be further discussed when our Defence Minister visits Bangkok on 5th and 6th of June.

Anti-piracy operations, maintenance of sea lanes of communication was another important area that we will be pursuing as part of our bilateral cooperation as also in regional framework that we have.

Second important thrust area which was identified relates to connectivity. As you know, Thailand is for us a gateway to Southeast Asia and East Asia, and especially with regard to development of Northeastern region of India it is going to play a very important role. In this context both leaders agreed that the trilateral highway project involving India, Thailand and Myanmar will be executed and implemented on a priority basis and completed by 2016. Prime Minister welcomed the Thai initiative to convene a trilateral Ministerial meeting to take stock of progress on this project and to see that it is implemented as quickly as possible.

Another area which was raised by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra refers to their Dawei project. This is a deep seaport and a special economic zone Thailand is developing in partnership with Myanmar. They are attaching a great deal of importance to this project and they wanted India also to be associated especially through investment by Indian private sector companies, and we have responded positively.

Prime Minister during talks today mentioned that Dawei will provide a shorter and more viable route to Indian ports such as Chennai and Kolkata, and also promote development of India’s Northeastern region. Our companies will be encouraged to explore investment opportunities in the project and participate in specific segments. We have a Joint Working Group on connectivity and infrastructure which will also look into this as well as other connectivity-related projects and develop contours of cooperation. We have invited Thai side to organise a road-show on this project so that it can be taken forward further.

Some related areas which were discussed on connectivity, we have East-West connectivity project which links India and Myanmar with CLMV countries, possibility of coastal shipping arrangements, and of course air connectivity where we have excellent arrangements in place with at least 150 flights a week between Thailand and nine destinations in India.

Third thrust area which Prime Minister referred to as the defining feature of our relationship relates to economy and trade. While we have a critical mass here, since trade last year was 9.2 billion dollars in 2012-13 and the Indian companies also committed investment worth 200 million dollars in 25 projects, Prime Minister mentioned that what has been achieved is well below the potential that exists.

There was one other important decision taken by the two leaders which relates to comprehensive free trade agreement. As you know, it has been under discussion for some time. The two leaders had directed their Commerce Ministers to take personal charge of these negotiations and to ensure that the negotiations are completed as early as possible, preferably before October this year. This is something I think will contribute in a very meaningful manner to further development of trade and investment links between India and Thailand.

Another initiative which was announced during the visit was establishment of a business forum which has the potential to stimulate private business partnerships between our two countries. Prime Minister invited Thai investment in Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor, Budhist circuit and Northeast.

Another thrust area relates to science and technology and space which can also be seen from the agreements which were concluded today. There is a very interesting agreement on archaeological atlas. This will combine tools of space technology and geo-spatial technologies to do a mapping of spread of Budhism from India to Southeast Asia. So, potentially it is a very interesting project which will highlight connectivity that we have with Southeast Asia in the civilisational terms. Prime Minister in fact referred to Thailand as a civilisational neighbour of India.

Culture, people-to-people links is another important dimension which was touched upon. The special gift of a sapling of sacred Mahabodhi Tree represented a kind of bond we have with Thailand. Thailand is also involved with Nalanda University Project which Prime Minister acknowledged during his discussion-level talks with his Thai counterpart.

During the visit, one of the agreements signed relates to establishment of a Chair of Hindi Studies which will also focus on Indian studies at the prestigious Tammasat University. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in fact mentioned that Indian studies are attracting greater attention and many Thai Universities are taking up courses on Indian studies which also reflects the closer relations between the two countries.

Friends, just to conclude, I would like to again refer to what Prime Minister said in his banquet speech. In his banquet speech he mentioned that we have today taken one more giant step in pursuit of closer cooperation, stronger connectivity, better commerce, resolve to strengthen our bilateral engagement, and advanced maritime security in addition will harness the benefits of science and technology, will nurture our relations through education, culture and tourism. Together we will work to promote regional economic integration, connectivity and evolution of open, balanced and rule-based regional architecture anchored in ASEAN centrality.

On the whole we believe that this visit has contributed in a very significant manner to further deepening and diversification of our ties with Thailand which already are quite substantial and have a critical mass.

An important thing I would like to highlight and stress once again is that there is very strong commitment on both sides to take this relationship forward which is amply reflected in high-level exchanges that we have seen in the recent past and what you are going to see in months to come.

Thank you.

Question: Sir, did PM meet with His Majesty the King of Thailand?

Indian Ambassador to Thailand (Shri Anil Wadhwa) There is a medical advisory issued on the 5th of this month about the medical condition of His Majesty and that medical advisory was not lifted for the visit. Therefore, the Bodhi tree was presented to the Prime Minister and she is going to pass on this gift to His Majesty.

Question: You are aware that His Majesty the King has been in hospital for some time.

Question: PM talked about it and you also referred to it that this took about 20 years. Could you just give us some idea why it took so long? Second, you said India had made some requests. How many of them are there?

Secretary (East): Extradition Treaty generally tends to be a difficult subject because it takes some time. In this case I think what is important is that we have brought these negotiations to a successful closure and we have signed Extradition Treaty. And it is not just a one-off agreement. As I mentioned, it is part of a much larger architecture of agreements and understandings that we have put in place. Now, you are aware of one or two cases. I will request Ambassador Wadhwa also to elaborate on it. We have made no specific request including with regard to one person who is a fugitive from Mumbai. We have made a formal request for extradition of Syed Muzzakir Mudassar Hussain alias Munna Jhingada. He is an underworld fugitive wanted in India by Mumbai Police in a number of cases. He is undergoing sentence in a Thai prison under fake identity. We have provided relevant information to the Government of Thailand and the matter is under consideration at that end.

Would you like to add something, Anil?

Ambassador to Thailand: All I would like to say is that negotiations have moved very rapidly over the past year ever since we signed the MLAT agreement with Thailand. I think it reflects a general desire on the part of both countries to bring the process forward so that there is a legal basis for making sure that such cases are dealt with in an expeditious manner. I do not think we can go into the number of cases because these keep varying from time to time. It is very flexible and fluctuating. So, I do not think it is fair to put a number to it. The requests are not so many but I am sure that now that this Extradition Treaty is in place we will have a quicker resolution of such cases.

Question: Just to take up this Point No.11 on the Joint Statement issued by the two Prime Ministers after the talks today, there is specifically a reference to the need for this thing which I am a bit intrigued about and would like you to clarify and give the details. "In this connection they agreed to discuss a proposal for the establishment of a framework to enable regulated deployment of labour from India into required sectors in Thailand”. Could you elaborate on what these sectors are and if the movement of labour is from both sides?

Ambassador to Thailand: I think the issue here is that Thailand is facing a general shortage of labour especially for projects which are being undertaken in the neighbouring countries. Obviously there is a need for labour and Thailand has signed MoUs with the neighbouring countries for this purpose. As far as India is concerned, India has exported labour, as you know, to many countries in the past and mainly to the Gulf countries and the Middle East. At the same time we always would like to have a regulated framework for our labour to go out so that their rights are safeguarded and they are not mistreated. For that purpose, there are two issues under consideration of both sides. The Ministry of Labour on the Thai side and the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs on the Indian side, one to sign a social security agreement which is currently under negotiations, and secondly to look at a framework MoU which will regulate the movement of labour from India to Thailand or into third countries.

This will take place over the course of the next six months at the end of which we will be in a position to say whether we can sign this MoU and this agreement. The agreement is also a useful input into the ongoing FTA negotiations. So, we are working towards that with the Ministry of Labour in Thailand.

Question: Sir, Look East Policy was initiated actually during the time of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In view of the fact that a fresh century has begun really, don’t you think that Prime Minister’s visit to Thailand is much too delayed?

Secretary (East): First, Look East Policy was actually launched a bit earlier than that. In fact it dates back to early 1990s during Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s time. It is not that Prime Minister had not visited Thailand. In fact, this is his third visit to Thailand. Earlier visits were strictly speaking not bilateral, they were in multilateral context. But they were nevertheless visits to Thailand.

Thailand, as Prime Minister put it, is one of our most valued partners for a number of reasons, because of strategic location, because of the kind of engagement we have with this country in different areas, as gateway to Southeast Asia, as springboard to ASEAN. So, we have attached a lot of importance. But you would have seen a certain enhancement of momentum in our exchanges and ties. It also reflects I think the importance which is being attached by our Thai friends as well.

Question: In the context of Myanmar opening up now - of course the Indian Prime Minister I believe was there last year where he announced the 500 million dollar assistance for infrastructure development - and India not really being present there all these decades rather having lost the opportunity to have a presence in Myanmar all these years, was there any discussion on India and Thailand collaboration vis-à-vis using Thailand as a big beachhead for India entering Myanmar?

Secretary (East): First, I do not think it will be correct to say that India is not present or has not been present in Myanmar. In fact, we have fairly an extensive presence in Myanmar in different areas. Coming to second part of your question, yes, Myanmar figured but that was more in the context of how do we enhance connectivity through Myanmar.

As you know, we have this India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project to which both India and Thailand attach a great deal of importance. As I mentioned earlier, other connectivity projects including Dawei Deep Seaport, a special economic zone, other economic corridors going through Myanmar, they came up during discussions.

Question: FTA between the two countries has been in the making for over a decade now. You were saying now that you are expecting it to be clinched by October.

Secretary (East): Preferably by October, I said, as early as possible, preferably by October.

Question: What is holding it up?

Secretary (East): In the case of India-Thailand what you need to understand is that it is not that decade of discussions have not yielded anything. We put in place a framework FTA with Thailand in 2003. In 2004 we had early harvest. So, in fact there has been very significant trade liberalization as a result of these negotiations. What we are looking at now is a comprehensive FTA which will cover not only trade in goods but also trade in services as well as two-way investment flows. We have made good progress in recent months since last round of formal negotiations in November 2012. There have been informal discussions as well as video conferencing. And I believe a number of issues have been sorted out. There are still some outstanding issues that need to be addressed. The two leaders have requested their Commerce Ministers to see that those issues are resolved as early as possible.

Question: So, it is just short of a CEPA kind of a thing.

Secretary (East): It is all a question of nomenclature. It is also a comprehensive FTA. It goes beyond trade in goods.

Question: Any cultural agreement signed today?

Secretary (East): Yes. In fact we have given you details of those agreements. We have signed an MoU on establishment of a Hindi Chair which will in fact be Indian Studies Chair really at Thammasat University. I referred to archaeological atlas. I believe it also has very strong cultural strokes and additional dimension. Plus of course a very important initiative - Thailand-India Exchange Programme – is is in fact something we have so far done with our neighbouring countries with great utility. In fact, I am coming from Colombo where Sri Lanka-India Foundation is a very useful instrument available and two Ambassadors co-chair. So, we have launched a similar initiative now with Thailand.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much.

(Concluded)



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