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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (May 19, 2022)

May 20, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us on this Weekly Media Briefing. We haven't had it in a couple of weeks for various reasons. So it's nice to see all of you here. Let me begin with an announcement regarding the Prime Minister's visit to Japan. At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Japan, His Excellency Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will participate in the third Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo on 24th of May 2022, along with President Joseph Biden Junior of USA and the Prime Minister of Australia. The Summit in Tokyo is actually the fourth interaction of Quad leaders since the first virtual meeting in March 2021. And of course, the in person Summit in Washington last September, and the virtual meeting in March this year. The forthcoming Quad Summit provides an opportunity for the leaders to exchange views about developments in the Indo-Pacific region, and contemporary global issues of mutual interest. The leaders will review progress of Quad initiatives and working groups, identify new areas of cooperation and provide strategic guidance and vision for future collaborations. On the bilateral meetings that usually take place, Prime Minister will have a bilateral meeting with His Excellency, Mr. Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan on 24th of May. The meeting with Prime Minister Kishida will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to carry forward their conversations from the 14th India - Japan Annual Summit which was held in March 2022 in New Delhi. During his visit, Prime Minister will participate in business events with Japanese business leaders. He will also address and interact with the Indian community in Japan.

Prime Minister will have a bilateral meeting with the US President on 24th May. The meeting will mark a continuation of the regular dialogue, having interacted most recently in virtual mode on 11th of April this year. The two leaders are expected to review the India-US Strategic Partnership and follow up on discussions held during Prime Minister's bilateral meeting with President Biden last September. They will also exchange views on regional and global developments of shared interest. Prime Minister is also likely to have a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia. As you know, elections are scheduled to be held in Australia on 21st of May. The two leaders we would hope would look at reviewing the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and exchange views on issues of both global and regional developments. The last bilateral meeting between the Prime Minister and Prime Minister of Australia was held, this was a virtual meeting, on 21st of March this year, which was followed by the signing of the India Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement on 2nd of April. So that's broadly the announcement that I wanted to mention. I am happy to take questions.

Yashee: Hi this is Yashee from The New Indian Express. I'd like to know why has the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka asked only Indians to register online in the High Commission's website, I just like to know and is the Kabul embassy reopening?

Kavita Joshi: Sir main Kavita Joshi hoon Hari Bhoomi Newspaper se, mera sawal yeh hai ki kya mantralaya ki yojana hai afghanistan mein fir se apna dutavas kholne ki ? Agar aisi yojana hai to kya isko ye maana jaye ki Bharat Afghanistan ke saath apne bilateral or diplomatic relations ko bhi shuru karne ja raha hai aur taliban aur usski sarkar ko bhi manyata dene ja raha hai ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, I am Kavita Joshi from Hari Bhoomi Newspaper, my question is, does the ministry plan to reopen its embassy in Afghanistan? If there is such a plan, should it be considered that India is going to start its bilateral and diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and also recognize the Taliban and its government?

Sidhant: Sir in Tokyo, the American President will be launching the economic initiative Indo Pacific Economic Framework. So what is India's stance? Will India also back this initiative of the US President?

Sandeep: Sir Mera naam Sandeep hai, News 18 India se. Sir mera sawal hai ki Pangong Tso pe ek aur bridge jo hai usski khabre aa rahi hai ki China jo hai banaa raha hai, iss baarein mein aapke paas aur kya jankari hai Sir ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir my name is Sandeep from News 18 India. Sir my question is that there are reports that another bridge on Pangong Tso is being built by China, do you have any further information about it Sir?

Madhurendra: Madhurendra News Nation se, mera sawal bhi Pangong Tso ko lekar hai. 6 janavari key briefing mein aapne bataya tha, jab 1st bridge Pangong Tso par China bana raha tha to uski tasviren samne aai thi aur bharat ne iska virodh bhi jahir kiya tha, bavajood isake doosra bridge ab chin Pangong Tso par bana raha hai jo ki strategically kafi important bataya ja raha hai. Jo pictures hain woh bata rahe hai ki kiss tarah se is par se armoured movement bhi asani se cheen kar sakta hai, mobilise bhi kar sakta hai apni sena ko? To kya is beech batchit chalti rahi aur koi asar cheen ke ooper nahi hua, kyon woh doosri bridge ko banane mein bhi safal hai ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Madhurendra from News Nation, my question is also about Pangong Tso. In the briefing of January 6, you had told, when China was building the 1st bridge on Pangong Tso, its pictures came out and India had also expressed its opposition, despite that second bridge is now being built by China on Pangong Tso which is said to be very important strategically. The pictures that have come out are revealing that China can easily do the armoured movement on it and can also mobilise its army? So, the talks which were continuing in the meantime did not have any effect on China, why China has been successful in building the second bridge?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me take this round of it and then I'll come back. Yashee, let me start with your query. Look, I think it's a very routine exercise you know, all our embassies ask Indian nationals abroad to register. From time to time, I think they send reminders. And I think this is I would say, this is just one of those exercises that happens to be at a time when I suppose there's a lot of attention so all of you picked it up. I wish all our embassies do this and I hope the same focus is given by our citizens living abroad that they register. As you know in different parts of the world we have asked our embassies to do that. As of right now I think that's what I've been told, in fact, I did check with our High Commission just before I walked in, and they said no, this is just a reminder to register, from time to time they do that.

Afghanistan ! Kavita ji aapka prashn tha. Dekhiye Afghanistan ke baaren mein and i am sure this will come back in english, jaisa ki aap jaante hain august 2021 mein pichhle saal mein Kabul ke suraksha sthiti mein kharabi ke karan hamane hamare saare bharatiy karmiyon ko Afghanistan se bahar nikalna pada hamen . Isske bavjud Afghanistan ke logo ke sath hamare jo relationship hain, aitihasik sambandh hai, usko dekhte hue hamane manviya sahayata pradan karana jari rakha hai, vishesh roop se genhu bheja hai, genhu ka chal raha hai abhi bhi, davaiyan bheji hai, vaccines bhi bheji thi. Aur jo aapka specific sawal tha uske sandarbh mein main sirf ye kahunga ki mere pass koi update nahi hai to agar hamare pass kuchh rahi iss baarein mein toh jarur aapse isko saajha karenge . (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Kavita ji, your question was on Afghanistan. See about Afghanistan and I am sure this will come back in English also, as you know, in August 2021 last year, due to the deterioration in the security situation in Kabul, we had to evacuate all our Indian personnel from Afghanistan. Despite this, given the historical relationship we have with the people of Afghanistan, we have continued to provide humanitarian assistance, especially wheat which is still going on; we have sent medicines; also sent vaccines. In the context of your specific question, I will only say that I don't have any update, so if we have anything about it, we will definitely share it with you.

Since this question will be asked in English. Let me also try to answer that in English. As you are aware, following the sharp deterioration in security situation Kabul in August last year, we had to relocate all India based personnel out of Afghanistan. Given our historical ties with Afghan people, we have continued to provide humanitarian assistance, particularly supplies of wheat, medicines and vaccines. As regards a specific query about reopening of embassy, if there is any update, we will certainly share it with you.

I think Sidhant your question was on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. I think that's the terminology being used. I'm actually not sure because let me just say that, look, I think it's called the Economic Plan, so IPEF or a framework. So, look, this is an initiative of the United States. We have received details of this. And we are examining it. At this point that's all I have to say. I would not be in a position to prejudge what might happen in Tokyo or in future, but as I said, we are looking into the initiative or the proposal.

Baki do sawal the han Sandeep aur Madhurendre ke. Dekhiye do mudde alag hai, batchit chal rahi hai. Main pehle bhi keh chuka hoon LAC ke baaren mein hamari jo regular batchit ho rahi thi, hoti rehti hai. Chinese foreign minister bhi ayen the, unse bhi baat hui. Hamari jo apekshaen hain unke pass rakhi gai or aapko yaad hoga hamare videsh mantri ne directly bhi bataya ki kaisi vartalap hui or kya mudde hai aur hamari kya apekshaen hai usamen aur isko hum aage badhate rahenge. Koshish yahi rahegi ki jis tarah se hamne kaha rakha hai ki solution nikalna padega batchit se aur jab tak woh solve na ho baki chijon par aage nahi badh sakten. Bridge ke baaren mein reports dekhi hai, ye military issue hai iske baaren mein, main kah nahi paaunga, ye kahan pe exactly hai aur hamane jaisa kaha hai ye pura area occupied area par hum mantein hai, aur isake details aur uske kya implications hai ye I think ministry of defence hi better bata payenge usmen, par agar ismein aur kuchh share karne ke liye raha toh batayenge, hamane bhi media reports or other reports dekhi hai . (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) The other two questions were from Sandeep and Madhurendra. See, two issues are different, talks are going on. I have already said that the regular talks that we have been having about LAC are ongoing. Chinese Foreign Minister also came and we had talks with him. We conveyed to him our expectations. You will recall that our External Affairs Minister also directly explained, how the conversation took place and the issues that were discussed; our expectations; and that we will continue to take them forward. I have seen reports about the bridge. This is a military issue, I will not be able to comment on it or on where it’s exactly located. And as we have said, we believe the entire area is the occupied area. Ministry of Defense will be able to tell you better its details and its implications. But if there is anything else to share, we will tell you. We have also seen the media reports and other reports.

Basically, look, I think that there are the issues of talks as well as this bridge. On the talks part of it, I think we have been pretty clear. And I think we will be saying the same thing repeatedly. We have had various rounds of conversations with the Chinese side, different levels, diplomatic and military side. As you're aware, Foreign Minister Wang Yi was here in March this year, and EAM conveyed our expectations to him. As the EAM had said, then, and I remember him talking to the media subsequently, the frictions and tensions that arise from China's deployments since April 2020, cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between two neighbours. So we will continue to remain engaged with Chinese side both at the diplomatic and military levels to ensure that the directions given by the two ministers are implemented fully. And of course, if there is any further update, we will share with you. So that's on the talks part of it. We have seen media reports and other reports on the so called bridge or I don't know if it's another bridge - somebody said it’s a second bridge, or if it's an expansion or widening of the current bridge. In the area that was referred to, of course, we've always considered this area occupied for decades. And from a military perspective, I would not be in a position to comment. That I think Ministry of Defence would be in better position to tell and also the implications of that. But as I said, we monitor such developments and if there's any update on this, we will share with you. Okay, Huma, please.

Huma Siddiqui: I’m Huma Siddiqui from The Financial Express. I just wanted to check, is there any idea when is the 2+2 Indo-Japan talks expected?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I don't think we have any date for that Huma. No, certainly not during this visit. But if there is, we will let you know.

Akhilesh Suman: I’m Akhilesh Suman from Sansad TV. BRICS Foreign Ministers’ meeting is going on. I don't know whether it is over or it's still going on. So can you please tell us some details about what is that agenda and what outcomes?

Suhasini: My question is about the visit of the US coordinator on democracy, human rights as well as the special coordinator on Tibet, Uzra Zeya to Delhi. In two parts, one Uzra is believed to have met with civil society representatives. Did she raise any human rights concerns in her meetings with Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra. And the second is that China has issued a statement protesting the visit and her meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, fairly strongly. Has China raised this in any bilateral context, either in Beijing or in Delhi, with the Indian government?

Sudhi Ranjan: Sir, Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg, associating with my colleague who's raised the issue of the BRICS Summit.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: No, so I didn’t get you first part. You also would like to know about the BRICS. Okay, fair enough.

Sudhi Ranjan: And also sir do we have any clarity as to when the BRICS Head of State Summit is, will the Prime Minister go on all those things sir.

Takashi: Hi my name is Takashi from Japanese newspaper. I'd like to ask about the Quad meeting. So, during the Quad meeting for India, how much is the Quad meetings important? And I think one of the main issues will be Ukraine issue and then also the security and deterrence on China. So how would India respond on those issues?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: So let me take those questions and I'll come back. Huma, I just answered your thing on Two Plus Two. Akhilesh ji aap keh rahe the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Akhilesh ji, you were saying BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. And Sudhi also wanted the same. Look, this is what I call as the live activity. Even as we speak, the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which is happening virtually, is underway. It started a little while ago, I think, maybe about an hour ago, hour and a half ago. That is currently underway. Let it get over we will certainly share information about what was discussed and what we would like to put out. And I assure you, there'll be some information. But I think while I have some information, I think let's wait for the actual conversation to get over before we make comments on that.

Suhasini regarding your query on I think it was on the Uzra Zeya visit. Let me mention from our perspective, look US under Secretary of State, Uzra Zeya as she has multiple roles, but she's US under Secretary of State, is on an official visit to India. She met senior officials here of GoI, including Foreign Secretary and Secretary West in the Ministry of External Affairs. She also met the Chief Election Commissioner, among others. Discussions focused on global and regional issues of mutual interests. We always say that. Both sides also discussed follow up to PM’s participation in the Summit for Democracy in December 2021, that was hosted by President Biden. I am not aware of the details of the conversation about whether what specific issues were raised, I would not be able to comment on that. But as regards other activities and agenda, I would refer you to the US Embassy, and they would be in a better position to indicate what all she's doing in terms of official meetings. This was here with the government. This is what it was. I am also not aware if there has been anything said by the China on this to us, I'm not aware of it at least. But look, if it's happened recently in the last few hours, I don't know. But I'm not aware of this being taken up.

Sudhi your question on the BRICS I answered, also related to that. Takashi on your query look, obviously, we attach a lot of importance to the Quad. This is, as I said, the fourth interaction, third in person. We have been keen to showcase what the Quad can do together and what it stands for. You mentioned a couple of issues that you feel might be discussed. That's your perspective. As I said, I will happily reiterate our perspective on how we see the Quad meeting, looking at it, we will look at areas. I think the Quad has a very large agenda and different verticals that it is discussing. And I think this is an opportunity to take them forward. They will of course discuss I'm sure contemporary issues, topics that any party or any Quad member would like to bring. And let me not prejudge that, once that happens, we will be in a better position to share with you what was the discussion. But at this at this point, let me emphasize the importance that we attach to this visit both on the Quad as well as bilaterally to Japan and the meetings that Prime Minister will have with his counterparts and bilateral.

Aparajit Chakraborty: This is Aparajit Chakraborty from China Daily. Beijing has already started the process to facilitate the return of Indian students to China, in the backdrop of this decision, do you think is there any possibility that India will review its decision to cancel the tourist visa of Chinese nationals? Or that decision will improve bilateral relations?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: You asked me two very different topics and I will try to come back to it. Sridhar, go ahead.

Sridhar: Sir is there a move in the BRICS? Because we are having within a week two engagements, which have very diverse world views, one is the BRICS and one is the Quad. So, I want to ask, is there any move to emphasize that, the legitimate security concerns of countries should be respected. I mean, it is a sort of a very pro-Russian kind of position and the kind of position we take that territorial integrity of nations should be respected as per the UN Charter, so that is seen as a pro Ukraine position.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sridhar I am completely lost. That didn't sound like a question.

Sridhar: BRICS Foreign Ministers’ meeting, Is there any move to sort of emphasize that the legitimate security concerns of countries should be respected?

Speaker 1: I just wanted to check if the issue of food security will come up when Prime Minister Modi meets with Mr. Biden, because since yesterday, they have been focusing on food security.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
You mean the wheat or something else.

Speaker 1:
Wheat

Suhasini: On the Quad, I did want to ask that recently, it has emerged that the Quad vaccine initiative has not actually sent any vaccines as part of the plan to manufacture Indian made vaccines with US funding, Japanese and Australian distribution. I'm not talking about ones that have been Made in India donated by India to the East Asian countries. So that part of the Quad vaccine initiative hasn't yet come. I wanted to ask whether the Quad Summit is going to discuss changing the initiatives goalposts, or is there going to be a review of this process, especially given the fact that the lab that was identified is no longer producing any Johnson and Johnson vaccines. In fact, they're only producing Corbavex which is vaccine that hasn't received WHO EUL, so cannot really be exported.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sudhi apologies, you had asked about BRICS and I'll link that with Sridhar’s question also. Look, as of right now, I have no information to share on when the BRICS Summit is happening. But right now we are having the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ meeting that's in a virtual format. So your other related questions about whether the Prime Minister will go or if it's going to be held in a physical format you're presuming are all speculative at this point. Again, Sridhar, with all respects, I don't know what you still meant.

Sridhar: (Inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: How do I know what other people would say? I won't even be in position to tell you what our Prime Minister or what our Foreign Minister would say in a meeting before that. We haven't used that terminology if I know. If you are relating to Ukraine, I think we've been talking, we have been emphasizing the importance of territorial integrity and sovereignty and UN Charter. But let's see what the discussions are, we will brief you, I assure you when the meeting is over.

As regards the food security, wheat; look I think, instead of me trying to say what would be raised or not, is again, we are more in the nature of speculating what might come out. I think we've seen of course, earlier, various press releases but I think yesterday, our Honourable Minister V. Muraleedharan was in New York. And his statement is I think what I would recommend captures what we are trying to say best at this point. Let me see if I have that statement here. I think he made two, three points and let me emphasize that. I don't know what would be raised. But I think MOS’ statement captures what we're trying to say, which is that, look, there has been an unjustified increase in food prices. And it's clear that hoarding and speculation is at work from our perspective. And we are committed to ensuring that such adverse impact on food security is effectively mitigated and the vulnerable are cushioned against sudden such changes. So in order to manage our own overall food security and also support the needs of neighbouring and other vulnerable developing countries, you know, we announced some measures regarding wheat exports on 13th of May and subsequent clarifications in that. So, these measures allow for export. I think the terminology was it allows for export on the basis of approvals to those countries who needed to meet their food security demands or requirements, and it will be based on request from the concerned governments. And this policy or such a policy will ensure that we truly respond to those who are most in need. I think what MOS has said was also very valid when he said that it is necessary for all of us to adequately appreciate the importance of equity, affordability and accessibility when it comes to food grains. We have already seen to our great cost as a humanity, how these principles were effectively disregarded when it came to COVID-19 vaccines. So open markets must not become an argument to perpetuate inequity and promote some degree of discrimination. And India has, of course, been very supportive and helped its partners in distress, even in the middle of COVID-19 and ongoing conflicts. So I think our these measures on wheat export, I think should be seen from that context. And I think we will be sharing such a perspective if this is raised.

I think there was a query from Aparajit Chakraborty, look, you made two assertive statements. I don't know whether I am fully with you there. I do know, there was some announcement of modalities of seeing how Indian students can go back to China, as you know, this is a priority for us. And we have been saying this on this platform and various other occasions, we have been raising it. I know that there's some information that was collected by our embassy, I don't have the latest update on what exactly has happened or whether the students have started to go. I've not seen any reports that indicate they're back there yet. We would certainly continue to press the Chinese side to take measures so that Indian students whose opportunities are there and are required to go back, including those in medical, are able to go, and they do not suffer anymore because of these restrictions. The other element that you referred to in terms of Visa, I don't think there was a cancellation. And I remember this query came up, I think, the last time we spoke or before that, we basically said that, given the COVID situation in China or in certain cities, it wasn't an opportune time to look at resuming grant of tourist Visas. Because there are certain visas that are continuing, I don't think this situation would have changed too much. This is not a new decision; this decision exists in terms of COVID related restrictions. I don't even would like to speculate whether this would improve relations between the two countries. So let's see. I think both sides should understand the plight of students who are stuck. And I think let's work towards that. And as situation on COVID improves, of course, as we have done with other countries, we'll see what can be done on the other kinds of Visas.

Coming back finally, into the query on Quad vaccine. Look, again, we have sent under the Quad umbrella, vaccines, as you correctly mentioned, I think it was Cambodia and Thailand, which were sent recently. Though you are also correct that this was vaccines Made in India Covishield. I disagree with you, when you seem to indicate it detracts from the overall goal. I think this is part of exactly whatever each country can do is doing in terms of contributing to that. Yes, the original plan was to have a very different modalities. But again, what is the final objective is to ensure that vaccines are shared Under Quad umbrella to those countries that need it. About the details of what would happen and as you said, the labs etc. Yes, there have been developments. There are working groups that under this, which would hopefully look at these elements. I would think this Quad Summit would be an opportunity to, again, look at this, but I don't know whether I can make a commitment that they will be reviewed or not. I think that would be a bit more than I can confirm at this point. Okay. Thank you very much for your presence here today. Good evening.

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