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Transcript of media briefing by Official Spokesperson and Joint Secretary(East Asia), January 13, 2014

January 13, 2014

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here for this weekly media interaction. Today I have with me the familiar figure of Joint Secretary (East Asia) Mr. Gautam Bambawale who handles our relations with various East Asian countries. Today the focus is on the forthcoming visit of the President of South Korea.

What we will do is, I will make a few introductory announcements and give you information following which you are welcome to ask questions to Mr. Bambawale relating to the forthcoming visit and on some of the other announcements that I have to make. Following that, as usual I am also willing to take any other questions that you may want to ask.

Let me first start with the forthcoming visit of the President of South Korea. President Park Geun-hye will be on a state visit to India from the 15th to the 18th of January. As is usual on such state visits, she will be ceremonially welcomed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on the 16th.

She will have delegation-level talks with the Prime Ministerin the afternoon of the 16th. She is coming with a delegation which includes three Ministers - the Foreign Minister, the Minister for Science, ICT and Future Planning, and the Minister for Trade and Industry.

Following the completion of the delegation-level talks, it is expected that there will be some agreements that will be signed. These are currently being negotiated. Once they are finalised we hope that they will be signed on 16th.

The Vice-President, the External Affairs Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha are scheduled to call on the visiting dignitary. The visiting dignitary will also meet Rashtrapatiji, and he will host a banquet in her honour.

Finally, President Park will also interact with Indian business leaders at an interaction being organised by three chambers of commerce – ASSOCHAM, FICCI, and CII.

As you are aware, India and Korea have a very robust economic relationship. Our trade in 2012 is approximately a little over 18 billion dollars. The Republic of Korea is a major investment partner in India. There are approximately 300 Korean companies functioning here in India. They employ about 40,000 Indian workers. Indian companies too have a presence in Korea. They are in areas relating to motor vehicles, IT, and pharmaceuticals.

During the last few years there have been several high-level summit meetings between India and the Republic of Korea. If I can recollect, in January 2010, the then President of the Republic of Korea Mr. Lee Myung-bak had visited India. In July 2011, President Pratibha Patil had visited Seoul. Subsequently in March 2012, Prime Minister had visited Seoul. President Park is visiting India in the first year since she assumed office last February.

We hope that the visit of the President of Korea will pave the way for expansion of our friendship and strategic partnership, as well as set the stage for future growth in the relationship between India and the Republic of Korea, and this,we hope, would be at a higher trajectory than what we have been used to in the past.

I have a couple of more announcements to make following which we will ask Joint Secretary (East Asia) if he has to add anything to this and then the floor will be open.These two announcements relate to the meetings that are scheduled on Afghanistan on 16th and 17th.

On the 16thof January, the International Contact Group on Afghanistan and Pakistan will be meeting in New Delhi. This is a group of 53 countries which are involved in Afghanistan. It started in 2009. Previously it was called the Special Representatives Group. It was then subsequently renamed as the International Contact Group on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. S.K. Lamba, the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister to Afghanistan is the Indian representative on this. We will provide you details of these meetings and the media opportunities that will be available for this meeting on the 16th.

Following this, on the 17th there will be the meeting of the senior officials involved with the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan,which is also called the Heart of Asia process. This will be the 10th meeting of the senior officials who are focused on the Heart of Asia process. This is on the 17th. Fourteen member states, 16 supporting members, and 11 international organisations have been invited for this. We hope to have representatives from a large number of them.

Foreign Secretary is the Senior Official from India at this meeting, and of course she will be assisted by others who handle this area. This includes Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan & Iran).

With those two introductory announcements and information about the forthcoming visit of the President of Korea I will stop. I will request Mr. Bambawale to add something if he would like. Otherwise, the floor is open for questions.

Question:What is the status of the India-South Korea peaceful nuclear agreement? Will there be any announcement of site during this visit?

Joint Secretary (East Asia) (Shri Gautam H. Bambawale):The India-Republic of Korea agreement on peaceful uses of nuclear energy was, as you probably know, signed in July of 2011 when our then President Mrs. Patil visited that country, and we are continuing our cooperation with the Republic of Korea on the basis of that agreement.

As far as the second part of your question about sites, I do not have anything to say because I do not know what is happening on that. But we will check with the Department of Atomic Energy and get back to you.

Question:Gautam, on the same issue, as you know South Korea is very keen on building a nuclear power project in India. But this time on the contrary we are the ones who are probably not very keen as of now. What is the actual picture? And is it correct that we want to finish with the pending projects first and then talk about others?

Joint Secretary (East Asia): Let me say that my understanding is the same as yours that there is a desire on the part of our Department of Atomic Energy to consolidate its civil nuclear energy programme before moving further and looking at new sites, or looking at new projects, or looking at new power plants. That you are absolutely right and I think that is the approach of our Department of Atomic Energy to consolidate whatever they have already been doing before moving further. I think that is what is going to happen. I do not foresee that any site will be nominated or offered to the South Koreans right now.

Official Spokesperson: Just to add to what Gautam has mentioned, nuclear power plants are long gestation projects. They take anything between six to ten years from the time you start thinking of them to the time nuclear power starts flowing. These are longer term issues. You have seen in other cases how the processes move. We have not even got into feasibility issues etc. So,siting is one step after that.

Question:Is India going to clear POSCO steel plant in Odisha during the President’s visit?

Joint Secretary (East Asia): As you noted, very recently the Ministry of Environment and Forests has extended the environmental clearance for the project for another five-year period. We believe that with this and the fact that the acquisition of land has more or less been completed by the Government of Odisha, I think POSCO can now move forward with the project in the coming weeks and in the coming months. So, we do hope that POSCO India will commence the project very very soon.

Let me also just touch upon what the project is because originally the proposal, the plan was for a 12 million tonne per annum integrated steel plant. The current proposal is for an 8 million tonne per annum steel plant. And it requires 2,700 acres of land which has already been acquired by the Government of Odisha.

With the environmental clearance being extended by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, I think the project is now all set to move forward and go ahead, and we do hope that the POSCO India will be able to do that in the coming weeks as I said.

Question:Gautam, the last couple of years have seen a major upswing in military relations between India and South Korea. Talking of this upcoming visit, are we looking at some military deal or are we looking to buy new defence systems? Could you give us a sense of the burgeoning military relations between the two countries?

Joint Secretary (East Asia): Let me say that you are absolutely right in the sense that the relationship between India and South Korea has perceptibly quickened, has expanded, deepened over the last few years. If you just take a look at the level and intensity of high-level visits between our two countries between 2010 and now 2014, you will see that it is much more than what it used to be before that. The reason for this is of course the intensification of our relationship across the board, particularly in the area of economics. The fact that Korean companies are major investors in India is known to all of us. And as JS (XP) mentioned, Indian companies are also important investors in South Korea.

On the defence relationship let me say that we do have a wide-ranging defence relationship. We work with the South Koreans on defence research and development. We work with the South Koreans on other activities such as anti-piracy in the Gulf of Aden. And we have also carried out some naval exercises with South Korea.

As far as this visit is concerned, let me just say that let us wait for the visit to take place, let us wait for the discussions between the President of Korea and our President and our Prime Minister to get through. And I believe there will be an occasion for media interaction. So, the outcomes and the results of this particular visit will be shared with you at that point in time.

Question:Gautam, the South Korean President’s visit followed by the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit, these two visits are apparently causing some kind of anxiety in China. The Ambassador has written a couple of articles in the newspapers here. There has been a resistance earlier when the Japanese wanted to join the quadrilateral. What is your reading of the situation? Is there any justification for the Chinese getting excited or worried about our close relationship with these two countries?

Joint Secretary (East Asia): I do not know the answer to that question, you will have to ask the Chinese or the Spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But let me say that it just so happens, it has worked out in this way that we have the South Korean President and the Japanese Prime Minister likely to come in close proximity to each other. It I think speaks of the fact that India is an important country in the Asian region and that we are an integral part of this region. We are an integral part of the South, Southeast Asia, East Asia region, and we have very strong bilateral relationships with all these countries whether it is South Korea, whether it is Japan, whether it is China or the individual Southeast Asian nations also. And I think China itself has a very strong relationship with each of these countries. So, I do not see anything special in this. But I cannot speak for China of course.

Question:Do you have the figures of the South Korean FDI in India? You said that 300 companies are there. But is there any FDI of South Korea in India and the reciprocal one?

Joint Secretary (East Asia): You always have different sets of statistics depending on rules of origin and so on. But as per our estimate, and this is based on putting Korean and Indian statistics together, total amount of Korean foreign direct investment in India is three billion dollars, and total amount of Indian foreign direct investment in the Republic of Korea is roughly one billion dollars. That is the figures we have in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Question:Regarding the security in the Korean Peninsula, how do you see the Indian role in the tranquillity between the two neighbours taking into account the fact that India has been from time to time issuing statements regarding nuclear tests or ballistic missile tests?

Joint Secretary (East Asia): As I said, we are an integral part of this region, the Asian region, the East and Southeast Asian region. What we would like to see is we would like to see peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. This is of course something which is for the Korean people to decide and to do by themselves. So, we would like to see peace and stability rein in the Korean Peninsula, and we do hope that the countries involved there will take every measure, every step to ensure that such peace and stability is maintained in the Korean Peninsula.

Question:India and Korea I understand have signed this Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. It has been three years and there has been a huge trade deficit that India runs with Korea. Now that their Trade Minister is coming, are we going to take up those concerns that we need more market access?

Joint Secretary (East Asia): You are right, we signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with the Republic of Korea in 2009, and it came into effect from 1st January 2010. And in the immediate aftermath of signing this agreement we did see an increase, pretty rapid increase, in bilateral trade in calendar years 2010 and 2011. But as JS (XP) has pointed out, in 2012 we have seen a slowing of trade. In fact we have seen a dip in the trade numbers.

You are not wrong in the sense that we do run a trade deficit with South Korea, and we are facing a trade deficit with South Korea. But these are issues which will be discussed between the Trade Ministers. Our Commerce Minister will definitely raise these issues.

And yes, we do want to see more access for Indian products in South Korea especially where we have a competitive advantage, particularly computer software, pharmaceuticals and so on. But let me also say that this is one of the many issues on the economic side which will be discussed because there are so many other issues which bind India and Korea together.

Question:On Afghanistan conference, who are the delegates coming in from the US and Pakistan?

Official Spokesperson: I do not have readout of the names as yet. While we provide the premises and the hosting facilities, the Contact Group is coordinated by Germany which is the Chair.

Question:This is for the Heart of Asia? Istanbul Process?

Official Spokesperson: Let us go one by one. The International Contact Group on Afghanistan is coordinated by Germany. For the Istanbul Process, the Heart of Asia Process, Afghanistan does all the groundwork, they send the invitations. And once they are ready they will. We are providing the facilities for holding this conference. So, once we have those lists from both these countries, we will certainly share with you, but that will be perhaps nearer the conference.

Question:I just wanted to ask about this whole issue of the domestic helps in the US after the Devyani episode. I believe the Ministry is pushing the Finance Ministry now on this issue of changing their status. What is the update on that?

Official Spokesperson: Nidhi, those like you who have been following this issue for some time are aware that there is a proposal that Government is considering to make significant changes in the status of India Based Domestic Assistants that our officers take to the US as well as to Europe. This proposal has been in gestation I would think sometime from the beginning of last year. So, it has been quite some time.

There are various aspects to it. There are legal aspects, there are financial implications and of course there are matters relating to visa status. Our Government is now in the midst of trying to finalise this process. Of course part of this requires discussions at fairly senior levels between officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and also the Ministry of Finance because there are financial implications. We hope to pursue this very vigorously as soon as possible and hope to have a successful outcome to those discussions.

Question:Videos have now surfaced of beheadings of Indian soldiers along the Line of Control, and the Army Chief has said today that the question on whether these are to be taken up as war crimes should be addressed to the Government. Now that videographic evidence is also surfacing and is in the public domain is this something which is going to be taken up with Pakistan and perhaps with an international agency as a war crime issue?

Official Spokesperson: Vishal, I think you have been economical with what the Army Chief said. He said that the veracity of this is being examined; once this is examined, the Army will pass it on to the Ministry of Defence who will then seek our views on how to go about it. So, at this stage there is an issue about the veracity of those and that is where my understanding ofwhere it lies.

As regards our view on this, I would refer you to a press release that the Ministry of External Affairs provided on the 9th of January, 2013. That press release quite explicitly indicates that this was a barbaric act and a reprehensible act. Also this press release indicates our views on that entire matter. I would therefore, refer that to you. It is available in the public domain.

Question:Are India and Pakistan resuming their Secretary-level dialogue with the meeting of the Commerce Secretaries?

Official Spokesperson: Parul, the fact is that there is a meeting between the Commerce Minister of India and the Minister of State for Commerce of Pakistan on the sidelines of a business conference. Now this possibly cannot be construed as a resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue process. We understand that the Minister of State of Pakistan would be following up discussions that were initiated during the visit of the Chief Minister of Punjab Mr. Shahbaz Sharif with the Indian leadership during his recent visit to India.

Our understanding is that the Pakistani authorities are willing to take substantive steps to show that they are in fact serious about moving ahead with the process of normalisation of trade. Therefore, they have requested a meeting of the Commerce Secretaries prior to the meeting of the Ministers which has been agreed to.You will recollect that the sequential roadmap that was agreed to between the two Commerce Secretaries in September 2012 provides for a step-by-step move in this regard, and the first step relates to the full liberalisation of trade along the Attari-Wagah border post. We have always remained hopeful that this sequential roadmap will be implemented with Pakistan taking the first step. And we will wait and see how this pans out in the forthcoming meeting.

Question:The US Department Spokesman said that when the US withdrew the diplomat from New Delhi they say they want to take this as a closure. Does India think that this will be a closure to the diplomatic row?

Official Spokesperson: I think we need to understand that today is the first day since the completion of that process where India withdrew an Indian diplomat - that was Devyani Khobragade, on Friday night she came back - and the US withdrew,in accordance with our request, a diplomat from the US Mission who left yesterday. So, today is the first working day. We will take each day as it comes because it is important to look both back and forward.

The relationship between India and US is not a one-issue relationship. We have a series of issues that we are engaged in. We will take this matter after carefully examining what has been our experience in the past, and we will move forward on this broad relationship that we have. And let me tell you we are doing that.

For those of you who are interested - this is only one aspect of it because I wanted to indicate to you how broad our relationship is - tomorrow the Consulate General of India in New York along with the Homeland Security will have a ceremony where Indian artefacts worth by some evaluations $1.5 million have been found and the US will be returning those to us at a function tomorrow in New York.

So, the point is that at the same place where we have had difficulties, we also have collaboration and cooperation. And that is the nature of our relationship. It is extremely broad. It is wide ranging. And you will have on a day-to-day basis a number of interactions which some of you would ordinarily perhaps not even notice.

Question:On the same subject, could you explain what Mr. Wayne May was accused of, what…(Inaudible)… he did and why he was expelled?

Official Spokesperson: I am not going to engage in a public discussion about who was expelled because I indicated to you that we had requested for a withdrawal of a diplomat who was involved in the processes at that time leading to the case that was under consideration, and that is the Devyani Khobragade case, which led to a unilateral action on the part of the United States. Beyond that I have nothing further to stay.

Question:Sir, 21 MLAs from Uttar Pradesh will be in England for the next two or three days. Will they get any help from the Indian Mission in the next 48 hours? If so, what kind of help?

Official Spokesperson: Shrinjoy, I know you have been following their journey all across Europe, and they are also going to places other than Europe also.

When any state delegation visits they areaskedin advance what their requirements would be, and we make those arrangements on the basis of the costs and expenditure being borne by the people who send them. So, it is normal for Indian Missions to provide that logistical assistance for any delegation that visits from any part of India. And that will be our role in that visit or in any other visit of any other study tours being undertaken by any delegation from any part of India.

Question:Is it true and do you know that many other officials of India who are based in US or in any other country have expressed their apprehension that the same case may happen with them as Devyani Khobragade’s? Any factual situation?

Official Spokesperson: This is what I read from you according to some unnamed sources. I think the reality of this situation is that the Government of India pays for the travel of all India Based Domestic Assistants who go on overseas postings with our officials. Therefore, if there are any who have concerns, it is very simple for them to send them back because the Government of India pays for their return to India. We have not heard anything of the sort that I have heard on television channels or newspapers.

Question:Are there any plans or proposals to restore privileges withdrawn from US diplomats in India?

Official Spokesperson: Every action that we take is available to you. Therefore, should we have taken anything in the past, you would have known. And if we take anything in the future, you will know about it. At this stage there has not been a change in the status quo as it was last week.

Question:Akbar, the Ministry of External Affairs takes up all the international issues which relate to India. The International Olympic Committee derecognised the Indian Olympic Association. Their executive body meeting said that if the IOA follows the rules they will be lifting it. And the Boxing Federation of India also stands derecognised by the international body. What is the MEA’s role in this? These are all international problems.

Official Spokesperson: Ashok, I am grateful to you for having expanded the breadth of our jurisdiction. Unfortunately, I must confess that on this score there are other accredited government bodies who handle it and it is not the Ministry of External Affairs.

Question:Akbar, after the election in Bangladesh - the Government of India has denounced the violence – a lot of violence is taking place and the minorities are also being attacked. From the Government of India how do you look at it? The Prime Minister called up the Prime Minister of Bangladesh yesterday. Did they discuss this topic?

Official Spokesperson: We are aware of reports of attacks on minorities in the past few days. Following these attacks it is also our understanding that the Bangladesh Home Ministry has ordered the Inspector General of Police and the Divisional Commissioners to take additional measures to ensure security of religious minorities across the country. Our understanding also is that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had publicly promised strong action against the culprits, and several culprits accused of these attacks in Dinajpur and Jessore have been arrested.

As you are aware, the primary responsibility for protection of life and liberty and property of all citizens of any country including Bangladesh as well as the minorities in that country, rests with the Government of that country, and in this case the Government of Bangladesh. We in India through our High Commission have been closely following the situation and are also in touch with the concerned authorities of Bangladesh in this regard.

Question:My question is always on the Italian marines. I would like to remember that in one month we will celebrate two years of the detention of the marines in India, and in a few days we will celebrate one year of the sentence of the Supreme Court that directed the Indian authorities to make a quick trial and a quick investigation. Are you able to tell me what the situation is at the moment?

Official Spokesperson: ... the matter issub judice,you know it as much as I do. For an executive to come in on a mattersub judice is not in the province of executive authority in India because this is a matter which now rests squarely with the courts.

Question:One of the lesser known aspects of Devyani case is her accusation against her maid that she stole a number of articles. Could you just shed some light on what kind of articles she has been accused of stealing and whether these articles including the mobile phone lend credence to her father’s claim that Sangeeta Richard was a CIA mole or a spy?

Official Spokesperson: Rajiv, I am not going to get into the details of a case the details of which are already available in the public domain in terms of petitions to the court. I would suggest that you please have a look at those details which are available in the court.

Finally, I have just onemoreannouncement to make and this relates to the process which has begun between India and Sri Lanka for release of fishermen. The process began today with the release of 20 Indianfishermen and 20 Sri Lankanfishermen.This process is likely to continue as we go forward. That the process began before the festive occasion of Pongal is a matter for some satisfaction to all of us.

Question:Just a clarification. In the External Affairs Minister’s interview over the weekend there was a question regarding whether or not the measures or privileges, or whatever you like to term them, given to US diplomats could be restored, and I was not entirely clear in what his answer meant. I was just wondering if there is any chance of a reversal of those measures including the measures against the social club, the removal of certain privileges.

Official Spokesperson: I do not know what social club you are referring to. The restrictions as relate to non-diplomats and non-entitled persons utilising privileges and benefits which are intended for diplomats is a matter which is, as we have indicated previously, not covered by the Vienna Convention. So, I do not know what the legal basis is for you asking that question unless you would like to benefit from privileges which are not yours.

Question:…(Inaudible)… this is not on the cards. I just want to be sure about it before I write about it.

Official Spokesperson: I think I answered that question earlier when it was asked. Every action that was taken was immediately available in the public domain. At this stage there has not been any change from what was the position a few days ago. Should there be any intention of any of such thinking, I am certain you would be privileged to know because you know all the things that happen very rapidly, and I trust you would know any such thing.

But at this stage there is no issue that is being considered because right now what we are considering is to have a review of what happened, focus on day-to-day issues on a day-to-day basis and let us see what happens tomorrow. If we see well beyond tomorrow, there is a possibility that you may get your outcomes wrong.

Thank you very much.


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