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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) (June 04, 2020)

June 05, 2020

Sh. Anurag Srivastava: Friends, Namaskar and Good Evening! Welcome to this virtual special briefing. As you know, Prime Minister held the first ever virtual bilateral summit with the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, today morning. To brief you on the summit we have with us, Secretary (East), Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh and JS South, Mr.Vishvas Vidu Sapkal. Secretary (East) will first make her initial remarks and then we'll respond to your questions. The floor is yours, Ma’am.

Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East): Good evening, Namaskar! I'm going to brief you on the India-Australia virtual summit between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which was held today morning. The summit of course is the first of the virtual bilateral summit and that itself is a very significant indication of the importance that we attach to the bilateral relationship between the two countries. The summit of course has a background in the sense that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was to be coming to India and we had this year two sets of dates, which had been finalized. One was in January when he was to come and he in fact would have been the first visitor of 2020 to India. So that time the visit did not materialize. We had looked at May as a possibility but that too did not take place due to the pandemic and it was decided to hold a virtual summit.

Now this summit which was held today morning, it was slated to be a 40-minute conversation, but it's spilled into 70 minutes. The conversation was extremely productive and the atmospherics of the meeting were very warm and friendly. Now, in this very first historic virtual bilateral summit, it began with the two leaders recalling that they had met on previous occasions on the sidelines of multilateral and plurilateral meetings on at least four occasions, and they warmly recalled those meetings. They talked about virtual becoming the new norm in the times of global pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison recalled Prime Minister Modi's very pioneering role in the use of technology, both domestically as well as in terms of the outreach to leaders across the world. Prime Minister indicated that he was happy to meet him on the virtual platform but is still very much look forward to the visit of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to India once the pandemic situation improves, so that we could warmly welcome him to India. The Prime Minister indicated that we value India-Australia relationship and this is a relationship which is based on shared values, shared interests, shared geography, and shared objectives.Prime Minister Modi emphasized that the relationship is important not only from the bilateral perspective, but also it is a relationship that is a factor of stability in the Indo-Pacific region and in fact in the world, because we are two countries that uphold the values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for international law.

Prime Minister Modi said that we have a very high target of ambition for the bilateral relationship and that we would need to continue to look at practical ways of strengthening the relationship so that the linkages that exists between our two countries, between our peoples, between the businesses, the academics, the researchers, all those linkages are strengthened due to this strengthening of the bilateral relationship. Prime Minister Scott Morrison on his part described Indo-Australian partnership, as a natural and a comfortable one between two very confident and sovereign nations who share an ocean and are also trusted partners. He expressed satisfaction at the elevation of the relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and expressed the confidence that with the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and our relationship would reach new heights. Prime Minister Modi recalled the role of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in strengthening the bilateral relationship and that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had pushed the relationship forward with a clarity of approach and vision. Prime Minister Scott Morrison appreciated Prime Minister Modi's steady, stable and wise leadership in these very difficult times, including in the context of G20 and the Indo-Pacific. As a result of these discussions we have had two joint declarations, one is the joint declaration on elevating the relationship from a Strategic Partnership to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and you will see that the document on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership covers a range of areas in which the two countries will collaborate bilaterally and even at the multilateral fora.

Besides that, there were seven agreements, which were signed. There was a framework arrangement on cyber and cyber-enabled technologies. There was an MoU on mining and processing of critical and strategic minerals and Arrangement concerning mutual logistic support, the fourth one implementing arrangement regarding cooperation in defence, science and technology, then an MoU in the field of public administration and governance reforms, then MoU on cooperation in vocational educational training and an MoU on water resources management. So, from the set of the agreements that have been concluded, you can see that cooperation in specific fields have also been arrived at. The agenda in front of the Prime Minister, it covered, of course, overview of the relationship and because this meeting was taking place in the backdrop of COVID-19 situation, there were discussion and exchange of views on how COVID-19 had impacted in a very big way, the health sector, the economies of the countries and also, in fact society. Its impact is deep and countries would need to work together in a collaborative manner to deal with the fallout of COVID-19. As far as the WHO is concerned, as you would be aware, it was recalled that there is a WHO resolution now, which has been adopted in which both India and Australia were co-sponsors among other countries and at that World Health Assembly, India also assumed the chair of the Executive Committee of the World Health Organization. In this context, Australia conveyed that they would give full support to the chairmanship of India in pushing forward a positive agenda at the WHO. There was discussions about the need for reforms at WHO and Prime Minister Modi indicated that in fact, we should be looking at International organizations in a manner that they become more dynamic and he also said that there should be an inbuilt reform mechanism in institutions so that we could look at how they are performing, in a periodic manner. Specifically in terms of COVID-19, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Scott Morrison had a telephone conversation on a 6th of April and during that conversation there was understanding that we would work together in a collaborative form, in medicine research relating to Covid, and in that context under the India-Australia strategic research fund which is a fund which has been operating since 2006 that the two countries would have a special program under which they would work in a number of areas relating to COVID-19, whether it's diagnostics whether it is vaccine development, seven areas have been identified where they would be working together. Recognizing that science and technology would play an increasingly important role in times to come it was agreed that we should use this collaboration in science and technology, in many more fields, Prime Minister suggested that we can look at investments in terms of a circular economy, converting waste to wealth, in terms of agricultural productivity, in terms of surface coal gasification, some of these were the areas which were identified for working together and collaborating in research. In this context Prime Minister Modi suggested the organization of a hackathon between universities of the two countries and Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed that suggestion, proposing that there could be a Australia-India youth dialogue to take these proposals forward. Then, in terms of looking at other areas of bilateral cooperation, there was exchange of views on how to take forward trade and investment between the two countries. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, recalled that when he was to come in January last year, he was bringing a big business delegation, which would also have had representatives from the pension funds, as you know, the Australian pension funds have very large funds and they have in fact, one of them Australian Super has invested about 1 billion dollars in India's NIIF. In this context, both the leaders discussed the possibility of a conversation between the pension funds and organizations on the Indian side to continue to have a constant engagement on pushing forward bilateral investments and taking those forward. Then, in terms of looking at other areas, in defence cooperation, we have expanded our areas of engagement. We are looking at collaboration in the two agreementsthat have been signed, mutual logistic support as well as the implementation on science and technology. There Prime Minister mentioned about Make in India and invited Australian companies to take advantage of India's program for Make In India both for defence production as well as in other areas, whether it be shipbuilding or other manufacturing that is taking place in India. The other special mention was made of space, Australia has just started a space program, while we have a long space program. Prime Minister mentioned about India's success in the work in its Space Program, its Mars missions, its Moon mission and informed about the Gaganyaan which is the human flight program, which we are undertaking and there was discussion on how the two countries could work together in this particular mission of India. And, the other areas was of course maritime domain cooperation where it was where Australia has posted one of the officers at the Information Fusion Center at Gurgaon and we would continue to look at strengthening cooperation in maritime domain. Also, in the context of people-to-people contact, the two Prime Ministers had spoken earlier and in issues relating to the Indian Community there and in particular the students who are there in Australia, had been taken up. Prime Minister thanked Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the support that had been now extended to the Indian Community in Australia and indicated they would continue to look forward to the Indian students being in Australia and similarly there was the reference to Australian students also coming to India. As you do know that education is a one of the main areas of collaboration between the two countries today. We have about over a hundred thousand Indian students in Australia. So that was a topic that came up for discussion and just to update you there have been evacuation flights between the two countries and India has undertaken 7 evacuation flights so far from Australia and in the month of June, there would be 8 evacuation flights from Sydney and Melbourne. So the question of the contribution of the Indian Community to Australia was appreciated by the Prime Minister of Australia. Both leaders in the context of global and regional issues, there was a discussion that terrorism continues to be a threat and it needs a global response and collaboration. There was some discussion on the conference on No Money For Terror, Australia had hosted the third No Money For Terror conference and India would be hosting the next one. So, Prime minister invited the Australian participation at this conference. Of course, there can be no discussion between the two countries without reference to the importance that ASEAN has and ASEAN centrality is something both India and Australia focus in the Indo-Pacific approach. We agreed to there wasan understanding that East-Asia Summit is also another platform where the two countries have been working together. At the last East-Asia Summit Prime Minister Modi had launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative, which was supported fully primarily by Australia and it was agreed that the two countries would continue to work together. Speaking about the two countries between the cultural aspects, there was of course reference to cricket and how these ties can, that is a very important part of the bilateral engagements that we've had. Prime Minister referred to Prime Minister Scott Morrison's tweet on samosas and he responded that saying that now ScoMosas has become a very popular word to which Prime Minister Scott Morrison mentioned two things that next time he would also like to make what he called Modi-Mosas and share it with Prime Minister and he also said that he would next time also cook some Gujarati Khichdi, so that was also a bit in the light vein. But there was the importance of the relationship in terms of how much we can work together and create better symphony, when Prime Minister referred to our two countries working togetherin the Indo-Pacific and Prime Minister mentioned that the symphony between the Australian didgeridoo as well as the coastal instrument Kombopattu of India, they can both be something in unison and a great symphony can be created in the Indo-Pacific region. I am now open to questions.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava: Thank you, ma'am for those remarks. We have received questions that we have clubbed as per different areas. In fact, many of them are related. I will go over them one by one. The first set of questions that we've received are on defence cooperation on the mutual logistics support agreement and on naval exercises and the questions are essentially on what are the details of the logistics support agreement, what are the benefits of it. On the naval exercises, the question was Australia invited for the Malabar exercise, will Australian Navy be participating this year, and these questions are from Sridhar Kumaraswamy of The Asian Age, Sidhant Sibal of WION, Kamlesh Gaikwad of Kesari, Maha Siddiqi of CNN News18, Manish Jha of Business World, Suman Sharma of European Security and Defence, and Parul Chandra of StratNews Global. Ma'am would you like to respond to this first set of questions.

Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East): Defence cooperation is growing between India and Australia and this was recognized in the comprehensive strategic partnership as well and so the engagement between India and Australia on the defence side is growing and is something which was recognized, the signing of the mutual logistics support agreement that was done in pursuance of we have a memorandum of understanding on defence cooperation and the arrangement on mutual logistics support was done under that agreement. It provides that when there are exercises which are combined exercises which are conducted training which is done, when there are humanitarian and disaster relief operations, port exercises, passage exercises, there would be extending support to each other. So that is the broad framework of the mutual logistics support agreement. As far as specific exercises are concerned, there was no discussion on specific exercises between the two countries.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava: The next set of questions is on cooperation in the mining sector. Sandeep Dixit from The Tribune wants to know what are the rare minerals India is looking at? What is the quantum of their imports from China? Does the move to open up coal mining in India to the private sector and making license conditions less onerous reduce the salience of imported Australian coal? Parul Chandra from StratNews Global wants to know, India and Australia have signed an MoU on cooperation in the field of mining and processing of critical and strategic minerals and plan to identify specific areas where both sides will work together to meet the technological demands of the future, could you please elaborate on what the MoU envisages? Rezaul Laskar of HT wants to know - could we get details on how India and Australia intend to take forward cooperation on rare earth metals?

Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East): The background of this agreement is that Australia has huge deposits ofminerals; it could be a reliable and a secure supply of critical minerals to India. So under this MoU, there is agreement to work together for the two countries, between their two institutions to see how this collaboration can go forward. As far as the minerals that are mentioned there, they are just indicative. The entire list is long, there’s Lithium, there is Cobalt, those all have found mentioned, but it will be a range of minerals and rare earth minerals for which the two countries would be collaborating.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava: The next set of questions is on China. On the recent India-China border tensions, was it discussed? This is what Sidhant Sibal of WION wants to know? Was China discussed in the context of independent international review; this is from Nayanima Basu of The Print. Similar questions from Srinjoy of Times Now, RezaulLaskar of HT, Manas of PTI, Shankar Kumar of India vs Disinformation, from Akhilesh Suman, so these are largely the set of questions on China.

Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East): There was no discussion on China in the Virtual Summit.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava:
Then there is a question on education; this is from Rajesh Chandra Mishra of National Coverage. He says both sides jointly decided to enhance their partnership in the domain of education through Australia-India education council. What is the intention of increasing this partnership?

Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East): See, as I mentioned to you there are large number of Indian students in Australia and similarly there is a number of Australian students who also would come here under a program for internship, and there are large number of universities under which there are collaborations betwee universities of India and universities of Australia. So this is an important sector in which the two countries are working together. There is a council under which they discuss these issues. They had last met I think in October last year. So this is the ongoing process of discussion between the two countries in the education sector.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava: And the last set of questions is on CECA. Rekha Dixit from The Week wants to know if there's any progress on CECA. Suhasini Haidar from The Hindu wants to know did the two leaders discussed India's decision to leave RCEP negotiations and did Australian PM request PM Modi to reconsider the decision. On CECA, is there a date for the restart of talks?

Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East): There was no discussion on RCEP in the summit. As far as the trade relationship is concerned,would see that there is a reference in the comprehensive strategic partnership to recommence when it was discussions on CECA. So we are looking at working together, no date has been set, but this is something that the two countries will be engaging in. But it would be a bilateral discussion, the bilateral CECA, on which they will be engaging.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava: I don't see any further questions. So this concludes today's briefing. Thank you very much for joining us.

Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East): Thank you!

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