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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (April 21, 2022)

April 21, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this weekly media briefing of the Ministry of External Affairs. Before we begin with our questions, I have an announcement to make regarding the forthcoming Raisina Dialogue. Of course, as you know, this is a very important flagship event that is organized by the Ministry of External Affairs in collaboration with the ORF. The 7th edition of the Raisina dialogue will be inaugurated on Monday, the 25th of April. And this time, we are happy to announce that we can do it in in-person format, unlike in the past, when because of Covid we had to do it virtually. It will be over three days, 25th to 27th. Some of the information is already public, but let me just go over some of the salient aspects of this. As you all know, it started in 2016 with the flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics. We have of course, had very high level representations in the past and this year also, I'm happy to announce that the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi will inaugurate the dialogue. In the inaugural session, we will have, as the chief guest, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

This year, the theme that we have this edition is called ‘Terra Nova: Impassioned, Impatient, and Imperilled’. There are multiple formats. There'll be six broad thematic pillars. I just briefly go over them. It's available I think publicly - (i) Rethinking Democracy: Trade, Technology and Ideology; (ii) End of Multilateralism: A Networked Global Order; (iii) Water Caucuses: Turbulent Tides in the Indo-Pacific; (iv) Communities Incorporated: First Responders to Health, Development, and Planet; (v) Achieving Green Transitions: Common Imperative, Diverging Realities; and interesting one called (vi) Samson vs Goliath: The Persistent and Relentless Tech Wars - this sounds interesting.

There will be side events. These side events actually will be hosted in Berlin and Washington. So this is the interesting part of the feed from other places and Raisina Young Fellows Program will also be conducted on the side-lines of this main conference. In terms of other participants, I mean, high level guests, apart from Her Excellency Ursula von der leyen, we will have the presence of hopefully, as I say sometimes these things change, former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt; former Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper; former President of Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed; former Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Abbott. We will also be counting on a pre-recorded message from the President of the UN General Assembly, His Excellency Abdulla Shahid. In terms of Foreign Ministerial participation, as you know, we have a large turnout of Foreign Minister participants who will also have official visits and you will see engagements with EAM over this four days’ period starting from Sunday actually. We are expecting the Foreign Minister of Argentina, Armenia, Guyana, Nigeria, Norway, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, and Slovenia. And we are also hoping for I think, the Australian Foreign Minister to join online. As it happens, these things always are a bit iffy till the last minute, so please bear with us. But I think these names should be all confirmed. They will also have, as I said, official engagements in addition to the Raisina.

Broadly, there will be 100 sessions, more than 210 speakers from 90 countries. And of course, I understand the media has already registered for it. And we also have the Dialogue. Many other people across the world will join into some of the open sessions. And of course end to end this is very high profile now; it has grown in stature and it is a leading global conference on international affairs that attracts prominent thought leaders, and I would encourage all of you to follow developments and we will also try to keep you abreast. Okay, having said that, let me open the floor for questions. Sidhant let me start with you.

Sidhant: Sir my question is on the visit of the US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to Pakistan. She has made a lot of anti-India remarks. Any reaction to this? And secondly, on Afghanistan, there have been a number of terror attacks. What's India's reaction? It looks like situation is deteriorating in the country.

Yashee: This is Yashee from The New Indian Express. I'd like to know how large is the delegation that has come with Boris Johnson? And is Rishi Sunak a part of it, considering the fact that a lot of the recommendations were based on the spring statement that Rishi Sunak made recently. It was called the spring statement a few days back; there was a mini budget wherein he made some statement.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me take your question first. Look, I would not like to comment on the delegation composition, I think the UK side would be happy to share with you. I'm not really aware that the Foreign Minister is accompanying him, as far as I know. But as you know, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is here at the invitation of our Prime Minister. And he's actually in Gujarat and you'd have seen a lot of coverage. He's been given a very warm welcome by the Government of Gujarat. And I think he has already done a few engagements during the day including a visit to Sabarmati (inaudible). He will reach Delhi later this evening. He has travelled to India before, but this is his first visit as Prime Minister, we look forward to that very much. He will have engagements with the Prime Minister tomorrow. And in addition, of course, he has a formal role at the ceremonial part at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. And then, of course, as you know, we've already issued a press release. We're looking forward to detailed discussions on the bilateral as well as multilateral regional issues, including Roadmap 2030 and ongoing topics. But on this specific issue of who all are coming or not, why don’t we wait for the formal talks. It's their delegation. I'm not aware of what exactly is the spring statement. I don't have an immediate comment on that.

Moving on to Sidhant’s question. Look, I think representative Ilhan Omar Congresswoman, we have noted, that she has visited a part of the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir that is currently illegally occupied by Pakistan. Let me just say that if such a politician wishes to practice her narrow minded politics at home, that's maybe her business, but violating our territorial integrity and sovereignty in its pursuit, makes this ours. And we think the visit is condemnable. As regards Afghanistan, we have seen some of the terrorist attacks. Look, we've always been forthright in our condemnation of terrorist attacks. We haven't issued a formal statement. We are looking at what exactly have been the developments there. But let me emphasize that we certainly condemn all terrorist attacks such as this, particularly in Afghanistan. And I think we'll reiterate that stand.

Tawqeer Hussain: This is Tawqeer Hussain from Yomiuri Shimbun. Japan says that India has denied authorizing the entry of its transport plane to collect aid for Ukraine, displaced Ukrainian refugees. So what is the reason of that? And we understand that earlier during the working group meeting, such authorization was given to Japan.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me mention to you that we had received the request from Japan for permission to land in Mumbai to pick up humanitarian supplies, there is a UNHCR depot there and I understand it was supposed to pick up humanitarian supplies from the depot and to take it to Ukraine and its neighbouring countries as far as we understand. I would like to confirm that we have conveyed our approval for picking up such supplies from India using commercial aircraft. We also received the request separately for overflight clearance using Japanese SDF aircraft carrying humanitarian cargo for Ukraine. That was also processed as per established norms. So that's what I would like to respond to you.

Speaker 1: (Inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sorry, let me reiterate again. We have received a request from Japan, as I said, to land in Mumbai, to pick up humanitarian supplies from the UNHCR depot for taking, I think, to Ukraine and its neighbouring countries. We have conveyed our approval for picking up such supplies from India using commercial aircraft. So that is one aspect of it. There is a separate request for overflight clearance of SDF aircraft across India. And that is a separate thing, it is not a pickup of supplies. And that has also, I understand, been processed, humanitarian cargo, as per established norms. I don't know if it has been conveyed, but that has been processed, the overflight clearance. So there are two issues there and I think I've clarified our position on that.

Speaker 2: Sir, from Yomiuri Shimbun, Japanese newspaper. To understand correctly, what you're saying here is that Japanese side, a lawmaker and a government official, they have said that permission was denied for landing of a self-defence aircraft. So are you saying, is it because the self-defence aircraft was supposed to land and that kind of consent was not given by India in any way.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look, I'm hesitant to comment on somebody else's comment that I may not have fully seen. I wanted to clarify the position that exists, which is that we had received a request for picking up supplies from a UNHCR depot and we've said, yes please, commercial aircraft can come and pick it up. And there is a separate issue of SDF overflight. Maybe the issues are the same or maybe there's something further, but as I said, Japan is very welcome to send the commercial aircraft, pick up that UNHCR material. Okay, moving on. Yes, please.

Ashok: Hi, Sir I’m Ashok from ANI. There is a report, which is - Australian media is quoting alleged interference by Indian High Commissioner in Australia in the academic freedom of the Australia India Institute in Melbourne, led to the resignation of 30 fellows, any comment and details on it?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Is this the Australia India Institute, that’s the one you are talking about?

Ashok: Yeah.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look, I think I have seen some media reports on this, which are actually not accurate. I think there are two different aspects here. First, our missions and post routinely engage with various academic institutions and think tanks in Australia and elsewhere, in other countries, with the objective of deepening India's relations with foreign countries, and promoting understanding between India and the foreign country. Now, as regards the specific case of the Australia India Institute in Melbourne, I would like to highlight that the Institute was set up by the Australian government, in partnership with the University of Melbourne. It is funded entirely by the Australian Government and Australian institutions. I think the state of Victoria as well as the University of Melbourne are among the funding institutions. Let me stress that the government of India does not fund the institute in any way. Nor does the government of India have any say in the decision making of this institute, the Australia India institute. So the report that we saw dragging India or our High Commissioner to Australia into this is actually very unjustified. Now, insofar as there were media reports, where talks about academic freedom at the Institute are concerned, frankly, as I said, this is for the Australian authorities to respond to. I do believe that the University of Melbourne has and in fact, the officials of the Institute also have made their position clear on this. I don't have anything to add on that.

Any other queries?

Kamaljeet Sandhu: Hi Sir, this is Kamaljeet Sandhu. I work for India Today. Two questions - One, are we going to bring up issues like Vijay Mallya and the issues of Khalistan with UK? And my second question is if you can elaborate the MOUs, which India and UK are to sign tomorrow.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look, as I said in the beginning, I think to Yashee, we are looking forward to very productive visit, this is very important visit. As you know, in the past, we had a very successful virtual summit last year. So what will be discussed will be, of course, issues of our bilateral agenda. What exactly will be taken up is I would have to leave it to the two leaders, and we cannot speculate what they would say. So also similar answer to what will be the outcomes, please bear with us and we will certainly share with you all the details. On the separate issue that you mentioned. I think you said about common topic of Khalistan which is very open ended. But let me just emphasize on that - as part of our agenda of course, we have been repeatedly highlighting the need to bring economic fugitives to justice. And I think I've said that from this forum many times, as well as about security concerns that may emanate from individuals who may harbor anti India positions. But as I said, that we are separately dealing. That's part of our discussions on various platforms. I do not know how or in what context this will come up. If at all, I think we should leave that to the leaders.

Kallol: Kallol from The Hindu. So, this is regarding the Bloomberg News that India reportedly has gone ahead and it's actually purchasing more Russian oil despite the recent warnings from the United States. Could there be a response to it?

Shalinder: Sir Shalinder News 18 se, Sir Jaise report samne aa rahi hai Kartarpur corridor ka misuse kar raha hai Pakistan aur wahan par jo pilgrims hain unko cultivate karne ki koshish ki ja rahi hai, kya iss issue ko India uthaega Pakistan k saath? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, Shalinder from News 18, Sir reports are coming that Pakistan is misusing the Kartarpur corridor and is trying to cultivate the pilgrims who are visiting there, will India take up this issue with Pakistan?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Kab? Aisi koi meeting nahin hai, iss mein kuch abhi aap ke saath share karne ke liye kuch hai nahin, jab hoga jarur bataenge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) When? There is no meeting between the two countries. At present, I don’t have anything to share with you on this, we will surely share whenever we have something.

Coming to Kallol’s query, look, you put a very loaded one, I think our position has been steadfast, it has been clear on where we are vis a vis Russia. Let me reiterate it since you raised it. We are looking how to keep our economic relations stable, stabilize this in the current context. I am not aware whether it has been increased or not. We procure very little oil from Russia, almost no gas. This is not done on G2G basis. And I'm not sure if there's any further data that I have to share with you on that element. I think External Affairs Minister couldn’t have put it better. I mean that he put it best. And you know exactly what I'm talking about when he talked about other parts of the world where you should look at if you're looking at increase in oil. And you also asked about one more element - Warning. I don't think I would characterize that. So to place on record, I don't agree with that word either. I think we have a very good conversation with the US at various forums at various levels and I'm not particularly sure I would agree to that kind of a characterization.

Okay, nothing else. Thank you very much. Appreciate your presence here today. See you next week. Bye.

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