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Transcript of Special Virtual Briefing on East Asia Summit and India-ASEAN Summit by Secretary (East)

October 28, 2021

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Namaskar and a very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon for a special media briefing. As you know, yesterday, Honourable Prime Minister participated in the East Asia Summit, which was held virtually this year. This morning, Prime Minister co-chaired the India-ASEAN Summit, again, virtually. To give us a sense of these important meetings and also to take some of the questions that we have received we have the privilege of having with us here today Madam Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs. Also joining us here today, Shri Vishwas Sapkal, who's Joint Secretary (South) in the Ministry of External Affairs dealing with the subject. Without further ado, I would now hand over the floor to ma'am, to give us a few initial comments on what exactly happened and then we will go on to the questions. Ma'am, the floor is yours.

Smt. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East): Good afternoon. As JS (XP) just mentioned, today Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi participated in the 18th ASEAN-India Summit at the invitation of the Sultan of Brunei. Brunei is the current chair of ASEAN. The Summit, which saw participation of leaders of ASEAN member states was held virtually. The annual ASEAN India summit provides an opportunity for India and ASEAN to engage at the highest level. The 18th summit is the ninth Summit, which was attended by Prime Minister Modi. He attended the 17th summit last year, which was also held virtually. Speaking at today's Summit, Prime Minister underlined the centrality of ASEAN in India's vision for the Indo Pacific. He noted that partnership with ASEAN is a key pillar of India's Act East policy and united and prosperous ASEAN is central for Security and Growth for All in the Region that is the SAGAR.

Over the period of past three decades starting from 1992, India-ASEAN engagement has evolved into a deep, robust and multifaceted partnership. ASEAN and India became summit level partners in 2002 and strategic partners in 2012. The year 2022 is a landmark here. As you are aware, we are celebrating 75 years of India's independence in 2022 as Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. It also marks 30 years of ASEAN-India partnership, and to mark this important milestone, the leaders of India and ASEAN have declared the Year 2022 as ASEAN-India friendship year. ASEAN and India will be conducting a series of activities round the year to commemorate this important occasion.

Exchanging views on COVID-19, the Prime Minister stressed on leveraging strong ASEAN-India ties in the fight against the pandemic. He assured ASEAN of India's support in this regard, exemplified most recently through the contribution of medical supplies worth $200,000 to ASEAN humanitarian initiative for Myanmar, in addition to the earlier contribution of $1 million for ASEAN’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Prime Minister underlined the importance of cooperation and regular exchanges in the field of health and traditional medicine as a source of healthy and holistic living. India's support for ASEAN’s efforts to recover from the pandemic was appreciated by ASEAN leaders.

Prime Minister also highlighted the importance of greater physical and digital connectivity between ASEAN and India. He underscored the importance of ASEAN-India cooperation on digital inclusion in ensuring a comprehensive post pandemic recovery. To enhance people to people and cultural connectivity, Prime Minister announced India's support to ASEAN initiative for an ASEAN cultural heritage list. ASEAN appreciated India's support for IAI, that is Initiative for ASEAN Integration through our development projects and our sub regional cooperation mechanism in the form of Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Forum. On trade and investment, Prime Minister called for an early review of ASEAN-India trade in goods agreement (AITIGA) which has been pending for a long time. It received the support of all ASEAN leaders. Prime Minister also underlined the importance of technology and innovation in post pandemic economic recovery and proposed an Indian and ASEAN Start-up festival as part of our Friendship Year celebration in 2022.

Highlighting ASEAN-India cooperation in maritime domain, Prime Minister underscored the importance of strengthening convergence between India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative and ASEAN Outlook on Indo Pacific to ensure a free, open, inclusive and rules based Indo-Pacific region. In this context, PM and ASEAN leaders welcomed the adoption of the joint statement in this regard as a means to enhance practical cooperation in the maritime domain between India and ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific.

ASEAN leaders in their remarks appreciated India's role in providing medical assistance and vaccine during the COVID period. Cooperation in health sector including exchange of best practices and capacity building in public health was identified as one of the future areas of cooperation. The ASEAN leaders noted India as a long term friend and a dynamic partner, highlighting various aspects of ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership, the leaders appreciated India's active participation and positive contribution to ASEAN led mechanisms in the region including the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting plus (ADMM plus) and expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF). The discussions also covered regional and international issues of common interest and concern. Prime Minister also participated in the 16th East Asia Summit held virtually on 27th October. The 16th East Asia Summit saw participation by leaders from ASEAN member states, as well as United States, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, RoK and Japan. East Asia Summit was chaired by the Sultan of Brunei. It was also held virtually.

Prime Minister in his remarks reaffirmed the importance of East Asia as a premier leaders lead forum in the region, and underscored the centrality of ASEAN and ASEAN led architecture in the Indo-Pacific. On COVID-19 he highlighted our vaccine and medical technological financial support for ASEAN and the wider Indo-Pacific in the fight against COVID-19. In this context, Prime Minister spoke about India's efforts to contribute to the resilient post pandemic economic recovery through Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign. Prime Minister also spoke about the need to ensure a free, open, inclusive rules based Indo-Pacific, he highlighted the convergences of IPOI with ASEAN Outlook on Indo Pacific and Indo Pacific policies of other EAS member states and call for greater cooperation by building upon these convergences. Prime Minister also highlighted the need to tackle the challenges cutting across national boundaries such as terrorism, climate change, pandemics, etc. to build a resilient post COVID world.

The Summit discussed ways to promote holistic recovery from COVID-19, improving preparedness for future crises and exchange views on regional and international issues. The leaders underline the importance of cooperation in ensuring safe, effective and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines. They called for greater cooperation in keeping the global supply chains open for an expeditious and sustainable economic recovery. Regional international issues such as South China Sea, situation in Korean Peninsula and terrorism, were also discussed. The Summit adopted three Leaders’ Statement on mental health cooperation, economic growth through tourism, and sustainable and green recovery. All the statements were co-sponsored by India.

Overall, there was a fruitful exchange with ASEAN and we look forward to further strengthening our strategic partnership as we celebrate our 30 years of engagement in 2022. The two summits were also successful in bringing out the convergence between our approach to various regional and global issues. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, ma'am for that extensive overview of both these important summits. Ma’am, we have a few questions, some of them of course have been answered in some angles in your opening statement, but perhaps what I will do is group some of these for easier responses. Let me begin with India- ASEAN. Sidhant from WION asks on connectivity, "Were there any new plans discussed or are under consideration?” Ranjeet Kumar from Rakshak News wants to know, "whether the Mekong-Ganga cooperation, which as you mentioned was launched in 2000, how is this progressing and what are the achievements till now?” And Tripti Nath would like us to enumerate India's concrete achievements with ASEAN from 2019 to now.

Smt. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East): Thank you. As I've said in my briefing in the start during the 18th ASEAN-India Summit which was held today, the ASEAN leaders and Prime Minister discussed the entire gamut of our strategic partnership including economic and socio cultural issues and of course strategic areas. Connectivity in this sense is a very important part of the ASEAN-India agenda. And it includes physical, digital and people to people connectivity. The India-Myanmar-Thailand highway is already in one of the proposals which is on the table, work is going on on that. The eastwards extension of this highway has been discussed and report is also ready and we are waiting for a response from ASEAN on how to proceed further on this. Leaders also discussed the issues and of course, now with the big celebration which we are planning to have next year we look forward to more such activities.

On digital connectivity as well as on people to people connectivity, people to people connectivity is a wide area on which as you know, with the ASEAN countries we share very deep civilization and historical bonds and that is something where we have been working with them for a long time, especially in preservation of heritage sites etc.

Of course, we are hoping that as soon as the travelling eases, tourism will start between the region and India and that will certainly help in the post COVID economic recovery as well. As far as digital connectivity is concerned, we work on digital connectivity mainly under the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Forum with the CLMV countries. Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Forum was launched in 2000. It's already more than 20 years old. It is one of the oldest sub regional mechanisms of the Mekong region which includes Cambodia, Loa PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, and the MGC foreign ministers met virtually in August and inaugurated an MGC website, I'd encourage all of you to see that, it has got a lot of information. We released a video documenting the highlights of the cultural, historical, religious, social and economic bonds shared with MGC countries. And of course, MGC partnership is multifaceted. It also covers areas such as culture, tourism, education, connectivity, capacity building, and there are lot of community based projects we are doing with the MGC countries.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you ma'am. Ma’am, another topic that you mentioned in your opening remarks for Indo-Pacific of course, areas of importance. We have a couple of questions on this. Rezaul from Hindustan Times would like to know, "how do ASEAN and India plan to work together to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific?” and Sidhant from WION asks, "how much support has there been for Indo-Pacific vision by ASEAN member states? Have all the 10 countries shown interest?”

Smt. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East): I think we can definitely say that the adoption of the joint statement on ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific and India's Indo Pacific Oceans initiative is one of the major highlights of this summit. We are building upon the convergences that exist between the AOIP as the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific is called and our own Indo Pacific Oceans initiative (IPOI). The leaders have adopted a joint statement, and this joint statement charts a way forward for practical implementation of the convergences in our vision of Indo-Pacific. The objective is of course to ensure peace, prosperity and stability in the region. Prime Minister has also invited ASEAN members states to come on board IPOI, which has seven pillars, and Indonesia is already on board on the pillar of marine resources and this is a very welcome development. Prime Minister has invited the other ASEAN member states as well to join IPOI. But this joint statement will really help us in chart the way forward in the practical implementation of the convergences that exists between AOIP and IPOI.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you ma’am. Moving on to the very topical issue of vaccines. We have both Sidhant and Rezaul again. Sidhant says, "Any support on COVID vaccines from India to ASEAN? Whether this topic was discussed including as envisaged under the Quad arrangement?” Rezaul’s question is, "whether any new proposal at both the summits on access to COVID-19 vaccines?”

Smt. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East): As I mentioned earlier also, the discussion on COVID 19 pandemic and post pandemic recovery, including exchange of views on vaccine production and distribution was very much part of the discussions over both the days. The leaders discussed various ongoing vaccine initiatives as well. At East Asia Summit, Prime Minister reiterated India's commitment to start the export of vaccines to the countries in need, and also spoke about our initiative to expand vaccine production capacity in India to assist countries in the Indo-Pacific in association with our quad partners. During the ASEAN-India summit, PM reiterated support to ASEAN initiatives in this regard. India has contributed medical supplies worth $200,000 to ASEAN’s humanitarian initiative for Myanmar, and $1 million for ASEAN’s COVID-19 Response Fund, in addition to supplying vaccine to ASEAN countries through COVAX facilities.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Ma'am, I will now turn to Myanmar, which of course is a member of ASEAN. We have questions. We have Nayanima from The Print, she asks,"what was the view of ASEAN countries on Myanmar or these summits? And did they seeking any assistance from India in this matter of how to deal with the Junta there?” Sridhar from Asian Age has asked, "what is India's position on the current row between Myanmar and the ASEAN? India had backed ASEAN formula for a solution but where does New Delhi stand now, given Myanmar's importance as a neighbour?” and Sidhant from WION wants to know, "was there any focus on the situation in Myanmar from the Indian side at the events”?

Smt. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East): Well, leaders exchanged views on the current situation in Myanmar, including the ASEAN’s efforts in this regard. India remains engaged on this issue and has contributed to the humanitarian assistance to Myanmar in providing medical supplies and vaccines, both bilaterally and through the ASEAN humanitarian assistance, the AHA centre. As a close neighbour of Myanmar, India will continue to support restoration of peace, democratic process in Myanmar for it to emerge as a stable, democratic, federal union.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you, ma’am. Moving on to the last set of questions which deal with the regional aspects and regional issues. Largely I have the South China Sea and Afghanistan. Let me just read out the questions. Dipanjan from ET asks, "how much are India and ASEAN concerned about the recent developments in the South China Sea? And did these meetings focus on freedom of navigation?” Madhurendra from News Nation asks "Indo-Pacific ke baad Cheen ka Land Boundary Law Bharat sahit anya padosi deshon ki samprabuta par sawal khada karta hai. Cheen ki iss samrajyavadi sooch par in summits mein kya kisi desh ne sawal uthaya hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) After the Indo-Pacific, China's Land Boundary Law raises questions on the sovereignty of other neighbouring countries including India. Has any country raised questions on this imperialist thinking of China in these summits?” Rajiv from Malayalam Manorama would like to know whether we have expressed our concern on China's new land law in the East Asia Summit. Also have we conveyed our concerns to them on the sidelines of the meeting. On Afghanistan, Madhurendra from News Nation asks again, "East-Asia aur ASEAN ke manch par Afghanistan, Taliban aur aatankwad ke muddon ko kitni tarjih dee jaa rahi hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) How much importance is being given to the issues of Afghanistan, Taliban and terrorism in the forum of East-Asia and ASEAN?” and Nayanima from The Print asks, "what was the discussion around Afghanistan? Are ASEAN countries also worried about the situation there?”

Smt. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East): As I mentioned in my opening statement, at East Asia Summit, the leaders exchanged views on regional and international issues, which included the Indo-Pacific, South China Sea, Korean peninsula, and terrorism, including Afghanistan's situation, stating that the current situation in Afghanistan has highlighted the issue of terrorism in the region. Prime Minister called for a global zero tolerance policy for terrorism. India stands for a free, open, inclusive and rules based Indo-Pacific. During the summit, Prime Minister reaffirmed India's support to freedom of navigation and overflight in the whole of Indo-Pacific in accordance with international laws. I think that covers the whole cluster of regional and international issues that were covered. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you so much, ma’am. That brings to the end of these questions. Let me once again, thank you for taking out time after these busy Summits. Also, our thanks to Vishwas Sapkal, Joint Secretary (South), Ministry of External Affairs for presence here today at the end of these two important summits. Let me end with just mentioning what Secretary ma’am has said, we have issued the documents from yesterday as well as the joint statement and the other documents. They will be available on our website of the ministry. You will also find a press release which will be issued later in the afternoon on today's summit. We have already issued on East Asia Summit held yesterday. Before saying goodbye, I would just remind you, today at 3PM we will have honourable Foreign Secretary here with us for detailed briefing on the forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister to Italy and the United Kingdom. Please join us on this channel at that time. Thank you, Namaskar.

Smt. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East): Thank you.

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