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Transcript of Special Briefing by Secretary (East) on Vice President’s visit to Cambodia (November 10, 2022)

November 10, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good Evening. Thank you very much for joining us for this special media briefing on the occasion of the forthcoming visit of Honourable Vice President of India. He will be visiting Cambodia from tomorrow to attend the ASEAN India Commemorative Summit and the 17th East Asia Summit. To give the sense of the visit and some more share details of it, we have the privilege of having with us Secretary East in the Ministry of External Affairs Saurabh Kumar,sir, we also have on the desk, Shri Vishvas Sapkal, Joint Secretary South as well as Ms. Geetika Shrivastava, Joint Secretary Indo-Pacific. Sir, I'll hand over the floor to you for giving us some sense of this and then we can take a few questions.

Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East): Namaskar Good afternoon to all the media friends. At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Kingdom of Cambodia, Honourable Vice President of India Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar will lead a delegation for the 19th ASEAN India Summit and the 17th East Asia Summit to be held in Phnom Penh on 12th and 13th of November this year. During the visit, the Honourable Vice President will also have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia and other Cambodian dignitaries. On the margins he would also hold other bilateral meetings with other leaders. The 19th ASEAN India Summit is being observed as the Commemorative Summit to mark the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership. During the Summit, the Vice President and ASEAN leaders will review the commemorative activities which have been held during the course of the year. They will also take stock of the progress made and exchange views on future course of our relationship and the relationship in the coming decade. Important regional and international developments would also be discussed during the interaction.

As you must be aware, ASEAN India Summits are held annually and provide opportunity for India and ASEAN to engage at the highest level. This will be the first foreign visit of the Honourable Vice President in his current capacity. I want to highlight that the Honourable Vice President's first foreign engagement was also with ASEAN during the visit of ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly delegation comprising of Parliamentarians from ASEAN countries to India in August this year. ASEAN India Strategic Partnership stands on a strong foundation of shared geographical, historical and cultural ties. ASEAN is central to our Act East Policy and our wider vision of Indo-Pacific. India and ASEAN have nearly 30 dialogue mechanisms, which meet regularly including a Summit and around seven ministerial meetings and these ministerial meetings are at the level of Foreign Ministers, Commerce Ministers, Tourism Ministers, Agriculture Ministers, Environment Ministers, Renewable Energy Ministers and Telecommunication Ministers. External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar attended the ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in August in Phnom Penh earlier this year.

This year India and ASEAN organized a series of commemorative activities for the 30th Anniversary as I've just mentioned. This year is also being celebrated as the ASEAN-India Friendship Year. It started with the release of joint logo and included a special ASEAN- India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting which was held in New Delhi in June. The visit of ASEAN Parliamentary Delegation in August and the first ASEAN- India start-up festival in October was also organized. It also included organization of various track 1.5 activities like Act East through Northeast Conclave in Assam and the seventh ASEAN- India Network of Think Tanks, both of which were held in May. 12th edition of India dialogue in June, which was held during the Foreign Ministers Meeting, seminar on convergence of ASEAN outlook on the IndoPacific and Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative in September, and ASEAN- India media exchange in June and November. The Friendship Year also saw a focus on youth centric activities, including the inauguration of ASEAN- India Network of Universities in August, ASEAN- India Artists Camp in October and the scheduled ASEAN India Music Festival and Youth Summit which would be held later on. The other scheduled activities of this commemorative year include the first ASEAN- India Defence Ministers Meeting this would be held after the ADMM Plus meeting, which is scheduled around the 20th of November, and the maiden ASEAN- India Maritime Exercise which would be held in the first quarter of next year.

Coming to Honourable Vice President's participation in the East Asia Summit, this is the other part of his engagement the Summit is as you know, a premier leaders lead forum in the Indo- Pacific since its inception in 2005, it has played a significant role in the strategic and geopolitical evolution of East Asia. Apart from the ASEAN member states, East Asia Summit includes India, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Russia. India being the founding member of the East Asia Summit remains committed to strengthening it and making it more effective to deal with contemporary challenges. It is also an important platform to promote practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific by building upon the convergence between ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific and Indo- Pacific Oceans Initiative. At the 17th East Asia Summit leaders will discuss ways to further strengthen the East Asia Summit mechanism as well as matters of regional and international interest and concerns including maritime security, terrorism and non-proliferation.

I would now very briefly you know cover the bilateral aspect of the Vice President's visit as I had mentioned, he will be having meeting with the Cambodian dignitaries also. Relations between India and Cambodia remain friendly and on growth trajectory. In the context of India's Act East Policy and ASEAN, Cambodia continues to be an important interlocutor, and a reliable partner. Our centuries old, cultural and historical linkages are manifest in Buddhist religion, and the magnificent temples of Cambodia, most notably Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom and Preah Vihear. India stood by Cambodia through what was one of its most difficult periods in modern history. This was remembered and acknowledged by the leadership and people of Cambodia.

The two countries have a regular exchange of visits and interactions at high level. Last visit of the Honourable Vice President of India to Cambodia took place in 2015. In more recent years, Prime Minister Hun Sen visited India in January 2018 for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, and he also had bilateral interactions during that visit. Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Hun Sen had a telephone conversation in June 2020, when the COVID pandemic was on. More recently, Prime Minister Modi had another virtual meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on 18th of May, where they discussed comprehensively our bilateral relationship and Prime Minister Hun Sen also thanked India for providing 3.25 lakh doses of India manufactured Covishield vaccines under the QUAD vaccine initiative. External Affairs Minister Dr. Jaishankar while on a visit to Cambodia from 3-5 August also had the annual ASEAN-India foreign ministers meeting and called on Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Honourable Vice President will also be calling on His Majesty the King of Cambodia and meet Prime Minister Hun Sen as I've already stated and Senate President Say Chhum. We are hopeful of concluding some Memorandum of Understandings which have been discussed and the visit would deepen our capacity building and demining cooperation there. Honourable Vice President would also be interacting with the Indian community and with friends of India in Phnom Penh on the day of his arrival, which is 11th of November. After attending the East Asia Summit on 13th of November, in the afternoon, Honourable Vice President will travel to Siem Reap, where he will inaugurate the Hall of Dancers at the Ta Phrom temple. The Honourable Vice President will also pay a short visit to Angkor Wat temple where India had done work during the 80s. We believe that the visit will contribute to strengthening India-Cambodia bilateral relationship. We will be informing you on the MoUs and other details of the visit in the next press conference which is planned in Cambodia on the 12th of November. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you, sir. Perhaps the group here will not be in Cambodia, there will be other journalists there who I’m sure follow up on this. I'll open the floor for any questions, please introduce yourself and the organization you represent. Sidhant.

Sidhant: Hi sir Sidhant from WION. Usually the Prime Minister travels to Cambodia and represents India, I mean, this is a change this time the Vice President is visiting. While there is an elevation, any reason why the prime minister did not go to Cambodia?

Kavita Joshi: Good Afternoon sir. Mera nam Kavita Joshi hai. Main Hari Bhoomi Newspaper se hoon, Sir mera sawal hai ye jo aapne kaha ki 20 November ko ASEAN-India Defence ministers ki jo meeting hogi iska kya agenda hoga, kya features hai ismen aur China ka ismen kiss tarah ka participation hai? kya Indo-Pacific mein hum jo baat kar rahe hain ki yah khula hua svatantra samoveshi Indo-Pacific region hona chahiye ya is issue ko bharat rakhega bharat ki taraf say? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) My name is Kavita Joshi. I am from Hari Bhoomi Newspaper, Sir my question is what will be the agenda of the ASEAN-India defence ministers meeting on November 20th, what are the features and what kind of participation does China have in it? Will the issue that the Indo-Pacific should be an open independent inclusive region be discussed or will India raise this issue?

Nayanima: Sir Nayanima from The Print. Just wanted to understand what is the issue that will be discussed as far as Myanmar is concerned? How aligned is India's policy along with ASEAN as far as Myanmar is concerned, and if they’ll be a part of it? Thank you.

Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East): So, Sidhant, we attach great importance to our relationship with ASEAN. As you know, in the past, Prime Minister has been participating in Summit engagements with the ASEAN but this time it has been decided that the Vice President would be going.

As far as Informal Defence Ministers Meeting India and ASEAN is concerned which would be held following the ADMM Plus meeting. Iss mein sabhi mudde, hamare defence cooperation ke jo hai security sambandhit jo mudde hai un sab pe charcha hogi aur jab ye meeting hogi to hum aapko iske vishay mein aur batayenge lekin mukhya baat ye hai ki ye pehli baar hamare raksha mantri ji hai or jo ASEAN ke jo raksha mantri hai unke beech mein is format mein pehli baar meeting ho rahi hai to ye ek important aspect hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) In this, all the issues, which are security related issues of our defence cooperation, all of them will be discussed and when this meeting will be held, we will tell you more about it, but the main thing is that this is first meeting of our Defence minister and the Defence Minister of ASEAN in this format, therefore this is an important aspect.

Nayanima, on Myanmar our position is quite clear. We support the ASEAN five-point consensus. We would like to see Myanmar move towards a democratic government, we would like to see that violence in Myanmar ceases. So this is broadly our policy and essentially, we would like the ASEAN to take the initiative and we support the five-point consensus which ASEAN is working on.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: And if there are no other queries, sir, may I thank you for your presence. I also thanks to Vishvas as well as to Geetika. Thank you all for this special briefing on the Vice President's forthcoming visit. We will continue to bring to you developments through our social media as well as on our website etc. Please stay tuned for that. Thank you.

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