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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (January 05, 2023)

January 05, 2023

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Welcome back for our weekly presser. You just heard a very interesting briefing about the PBD. And before I go on to the regular questions, I just have a small announcement to make. We announced yesterday the Strategic Dialogue with France, which was led by Mr. Emmanuel Bonne, the Diplomatic Adviser to the French President. Just to a little more advance on that, I can confirm that India and France today held the 36th Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi. The Indian delegation was led by National Security Adviser Shri Ajit Doval, while the French delegation was led by the visiting Diplomatic Adviser, as I just mentioned, Mr. Emmanuel Bonne. The two sides held discussions on a variety of issues, of course, including the current global security situation in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, regional security in the context of Afghanistan, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific besides other issues of mutual concern. The dialogue has just got over. Mr. Bonne has subsequently I think, is meeting or has just met the External Affairs Minister. He is scheduled to call on Prime Minister a bit later, and then thereafter he will be meeting our G20 Sherpa because as Mr. Bonne is also himself the G20 Sherpa for France. Shri Amitabh Kant will host him for a meal, I think later in the evening. And then I think Mr. Bonne leaves either late tonight or tomorrow morning. So I just wanted to give an update on that. With that I'm happy to take a few questions.

Abhishek Jha: Sir I’m Abhishek Jha from CNN News18. My question is regarding Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s tweet where he had said about self determination right for Kashmiris today, and also Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto has also talked about plebiscite and it should happen in Kashmir. So your take on that.

Shalinder: Sir Shalinder News 18 se, Abhishek ne jo sawal poocha uss se juda hua sawal hai iske saath hi Pakistan campaign bhi chala raha hai social media ko lekar. Unki embassies or unke jo social media influencers hain woh lagatar is tarah ke propaganda tweets ko retweet kar rahe hain taki isko ek campaign ke roop mein chalaya ja sake, ispe aap kya kahenge? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir I am Shalinder from News 18, my question related to the question asked by Abhishek. Pakistan is running a campaign on social media. Their embassies and their social media influencers are constantly retweeting such propaganda tweets, so that it can be run as a campaign, what would you say on this?

Sidhant: Sir, Sidhant from WION. Sir, we have seen a visit of an Israeli Minister to the compound Al-Aqsa mosque. What is the reaction of India regarding that, we have seen global reactions coming in saying that this can escalate the situation there?

Yeshi: Yeshi Seli from The New Indian Express. What is the status of these eight former naval officers in Qatar? Five bail pleas have been rejected and no charges have been framed up till now. So what's the update?

Vineet Dixit: Vineet Dixit from News Gate. Sir, there's a report by WHO, China is underrepresenting facts regarding COVID situation in their country. What is our view on that?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: So let me take this round of questions unless there's anything related to this, and then I'll take a few more. Abhishek, and then Shalinder Ji. You have raised the issue Abhishek on something that I think our position has been clarified multiple times, but however, since you would like to raise it again. Look, as regards the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is an inalienable and integral part of India, I think we have reiterated many times on this forum. In specific as Article 370, in which also there's a reference to I think in some of the comments, social media. As we have said earlier, again, a number of times these are entirely a matter of India, as well as our Constitution and it's a sovereign matter. So we do not see what is their locus standi on this and such interference does not help at all and it does not succeed. Similarly, Shalinder Ji agar koi campaign chal raha hai is tarah se social media to trending ek din ka ho gaya to usase I don't think ki kuchh firk padega, to reality hai aur hamara jo is tarah ka nazariya hai ispe. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Similarly, Shalinder ji, if a campaign is going on, it will trend for a day on social media, but I don't think it will make any difference on the reality and our approach on this.

Moving on Sidhant you mentioned about a visit by a Israeli political person or particular leader to Al-Aqsa mosque. Look, let me emphasize our larger point here, which is on the issue of the Palestine question. Our position on The Palestine question has been clear and consistent. We are committed to supporting all efforts to resume direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a two state solution that might lead to establishing a sovereign, independent and viable state of Palestine living side by side in peace with Israel and that also takes into account Israel's legitimate security concerns. And we have reiterated this position, so I think beyond that, I don't have anything else to say in the context of the question that you asked.

Yeshi moving on to Doha. I think you also have been raising this question quite often and we also try to give you updates as we have them. I don't have any particular specific update except to say that yes, if you remember last week, when we were discussing, we just got the second round of consular access that did take place. Our Embassy officials in Doha met all eight Indian nationals, they confirmed their wellbeing and rendered necessary consular assistance. Since then, some more family members or some family members from India have recently travelled and met their family members who have been detained. The visit and meetings of more family members to Qatar is being facilitated. And of course, our Embassy in Doha is continuing to pursue the matter. And this is a matter which is of high priority for us. I wouldn’t like to comment on the legal processes, I said that you will have to ask the Qatari authorities. That's all I have from our perspective.

Vineet Ji, you asked about report by WHO or something like that, what China is underreporting that's what you said right? Look, I have no particular information to say one way or the other. I have in the past emphasized that we hope that everybody is able to come out, humanity as a whole is able to come out of this COVID situation. We have encouraged all countries. We closely coordinate with WHO and to share experiences and help the world prepare better with sharing of information as well as details. But without any additional information, I would not be able to comment on it. But I do hope that countries will coordinate closely with WHO and share necessary information so that we can come out of COVID faster.

Madhurendra: Sir main Madhurendra News Nation se, India-France strategic jo dialogue ki jankari aapne di usase jude mere do sawal hai, ek toh Indo-Pacific ko lekar kya vishesh batchit hui usake baare mein agar kuchh detail jankari aap de payen aur Rafale-M ki deal ko lekar jo batchit chal rahi hai through even French media uspar agar aap kuchh? France ki media mein tamam khabren hai ki Rafale-M bharat kharidne ja raha hai, zahir hai ki aaj batchit hui hai to us mudde par bhi batchit hui hogi, agar koi jankari aap sajha kar payen? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, I am Madhurendra from News Nation. I have two questions related to the India-France Strategic Dialogue that you mentioned. One is that, can you give some detailed information about what special conversation took place about Indo-Pacific and also on the talks going on about the Rafale-M deal? There is a lot of news in the French media that India is going to buy Rafale-M. In the talks held today,there must have been a discussion on this issue too, if you can share any information?

Sudhi Ranjan: Sir I’m Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg. Sir on the Strategic Dialogue can you confirm whether Navy to Navy cooperation or increased Navy to Navy cooperation between the two countries were discussed and if anything new is being planned, and also India and France are talking to each other to build, co-develop a jet engine. Did this figure out to be done.

Shailesh Kumar: Sir, I’m Shailesh from National Defence. Sir, Chinese have built two mobile towers in Changla, and one mobile tower in (inaudible) which is Indian Territory, as per the revenue records and there have been some constructions in (inaudible) that is also Indian territory as per the revenue records. Have we lodged protest or have we raised the issue with the Chinese because these are the areas in Demchok and surrounding Indus. So this is very serious issue. And I have got some access to some pictures as well of the mobile towers and the construction out there.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Your question was?

Shailesh Kumar: Have we raised this issue because it's a Indian territory well mentioned in Indian revenue records sir, allegedly.

Biren Bhattacharya: Sir Biren Bhattacharya from Aaj Kal. What are the situation of 426 Pakistani Hindus who want to asthi visarjan in Ganga? Is there any decision to give them permission or not?

Shrinjoy: Sir this is a very curious case. There are three Russians who are middle aged, and all three of them died for various reasons in of all places, Odisha. Can you tell us if the Indian government, or even the state government has been in touch with the Russian authorities on this issue because it's very unusual that three deaths of three foreign nationals, all of whom were not very unwell suddenly died in 10 days in a certain part of India.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Madhurendra Ji and Sudhi you asked about ongoing India-France Strategic Dialogue. Look, the problem of answering something in the middle of the day when the dialogue is still going on is a bit tricky. And I haven't been part of these conversations and we are here. So let me just repeat what I have to say and let’s not try to speculate. I did specifically mention defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. At this point, let me leave it at that. Obviously, the larger context of various aspects of that would have been discussed. I am not going to be in a position to confirm whether a particular deal or contract has been discussed or not. We'll have to wait for a readout or ask the Ministry of Defence.

Sudhi you mentioned what Navy to Navy connect. Look, discussions did take place on issue of deeper collaboration in the Indo-Pacific and generally on defence cooperation, I would assume that Navy to Navy would have come, but again, the meetings are still going on - External Affairs Minister, then the Prime Minister, and so on so forth, I don't think it'd be appropriate for me to comment on and I certainly would not be in a position to talk about details like co-development, I think these are perhaps best answered by Ministry of Defence or other agencies on India, France. We have made our position clear I think earlier in the past and during other visits or other interactions with France. Our interest on both sides is to develop greater defence cooperation, including co-development, co-production etc, but on specific elements, I wouldn't like to, or I wouldn't be in a position right now to say anything.

Shailesh Ji I am at loss to answer your question. If you feel this or something very new or information, in terms of our land having been taken over, I think I'm not the right person to convey I hope you'll share it with the appropriate authorities. All I can say is, look, I think I have a lot of faith in our armed forces, in ability to defend our territory. As regards the larger issue of where the Line of Actual Control is and the discussions we have been briefing you, our discussions with China and the regular contacts that are happening at the diplomatic as well as the military or the joint diplomatic military in some cases. And those are the mechanisms under which our concerns about Chinese activities are conveyed, and ways how we can get back to a degree of normalcy or disengagement or de-escalation in the border. I am not able to say whether these mobile towers are in parts controlled by us. We certainly have, as you know, from our maps claim, a large amount of territory, which we feel is ours, it's an illegal occupation of China, if it's happening there. So you are saying revenue records, etc. this is not the opportunity or the location to discuss India-China boundary talks. So I would stop here.

Dekhiye, this part of Hindi aisa kuchh hai nahi kehne k liye. Hamari jo position hai bharat aur chin ke beech mein jo hamare boundary talks ke baare mein hai, hum aapko time to time bata rahen hai aur isko diplomatic level pe bhi ya military sides par bhi discussion chal rahi hai aur ye jo unhonne kuchh jikr kiya kuchh mobile towers bane hain bharatiy territory mein. Main sirf kehna chahta hoon dekhiye bharatiy territory ko, hamari puri aastha aur vishwas hai hamare army or armed forces par ki woh defend karenge. Aur jo larger issue hai ki hamare boundary talks kahan hone chahiye or kya line of actual control kidhar hai aur kya perceptions hai, ispe ye theek uchit platform nahi hai jahan pe main iski detail mein jaa sakta hoon. To main itana hi kahunga ki agar specific information hai to aap hamare defence authority se share kar sakte hai, hum se bhi share kar sakte hai, par ye jo communication hote hai ya regular contacts rehte hai China ke saath, usape Chinese activity pe jo bhi hamen concerns hai woh usmen convey karte hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Look, our position regarding India and China, regarding boundary talks, we have been telling you from time to time. It is also being discussed at the diplomatic level or on the military side. Regarding what you said about Chinese mobile towers on the Indian territory, I just want to say, look, we have full trust and confidence in our armed forces, that they will defend. And the larger issue of where our boundary talks should be and where is the line of actual control is and what are the perceptions, this is not the right platform where I can go into detail. So, I would just say that if there is specific information, then you can share with our defence authorities, you can also share with us. Our concerns regarding Chinese activity are conveyed through regular communications or regular contacts which keep happening with China.

Mr. Biren you raised the issue of 426. I don't know where you got the number from. There was an odd article I saw in a foreign journal where it said 426, I don't know where you got that. If you've got the detail from somewhere, please share with us. I don't have such numbers and nor am I willing to comment on it. All I would like to say is that we have a visa which is given for exactly this, for conducting the last rites as well as for sharing the aasthi in the Ganga or otherwise in India, those who wish to do so and from time to time, depending on the case, such visas are issued by our high commission. How many visas or whether 426 have applied or not, I am not aware of it. I haven't seen any report to that effect.

Shrinjoy your question I would like to not comment on the strangeness or not, let me stick to the facts as we know it. As you are aware, we spoke last time or on last couple of occasions, about unfortunate cases of deaths of two Russians in Odisha, on which there were three separate incidents actually and at least two we talked about. And in those cases necessary investigation is being carried out by the Odisha police as per our laws. We are now aware of a death of a Russian sailor, we understand that it's in international waters off the coast of Odisha, but we were checking, we understand that the body has or brought to Paradip port for necessary formalities which are being undertaken in such cases of deaths on the ship. And this will be handled by our appropriate laws governing such cases, that's on ships. So I won't like to link all of them nor look at it all together. It's a large country with a large number of foreigners visiting here. I think it's just the headlines has been caught on. I don't see any reason to link certainly this last one with the previous two cases where the investigation is still underway. Odisha government is conducting the investigation as regards deaths and what are the circumstances of that. If I have any update, we'll share with you.

Avinash: Avinash from Asahi Shimbun. Sir, there have been reports that G20 Foreign Ministers will be held on first and second March in Delhi. Can you confirm this? And if so, sir do you think this can be an opportunity for the Quad Foreign Ministers meeting as well?

Aparajit Chakraborty: Aparajit Chakraborty from China Daily. Last week China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang has written in an article in a magazine referring India China relations, both sides are willing to ease the situation and jointly protect peace around their borders. So what is your view point. And my second query is Nepal PM Dahal last week said, ‘’I had a conversation with the Indian Foreign Secretary, I think my first foreign visit will be from India’’.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: What is your question? I didn't understand it.

Aparajit Chakraborty: Nepal PM said my first foreign visit to start from India. So what would you say regarding Nepal PM’s first foreign visit to start from India.

Sidhant: It is related to G20. Any plans to invite the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. He had conversation with Prime Minister Modi and was very keen on essentially, India playing an important role. So will we be inviting President Zelenskyy?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: This is inviting him for the Summit?

Sidhant: Yes, sir.

Speaker 1: There are series or meetings which are happening in Delhi about G20. There's a Chief Secretaries meeting going on. Do we have any update?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: You're asking questions beyond foreign policies. I'm a little worried answering that. Okay. I will close with this round. Avinash look, there is a G20 calendar that is announced as we go along. We have announced as yet the first three months which is December, January and up to end of February. So yes, this meeting that you're referring to has not yet been announced. So let me not confirm the exact details of that. But yes, there will be a Foreign Ministers’ meeting. We will host the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting, as is customary. I think it will be in Delhi. That's the plan. But look, let's lock it in and when it's appropriate, we will announce it. We will also try to announce other G20 meetings which take place as soon as we can extend the calendar maybe for a month or two. But I'd have to talk to the G20 Secretariat. As regards a Quad meeting on the occasion, no, I haven't heard anything particular. I'm not even sure whether that's the right occasion to do it. But yeah, if we have an announcement on this regard, I'll get back to you. As of now, I don't have any information to share on that specific element.

Aparajit Chakraborty you asked about the new foreign minister designates comments on, you know, I think he just wrote a blog. I don't know how old the blog was. That's what you're referring to. Let me just make a short comment here he's made it in context, or his capacity as ambassador. So it wasn't his capacity as foreign minister. After he is announced, designate. Let me just say, look, you are aware of India's long standing position, that ensuring peace and tranquillity in the border areas, is essential for the development of our relationship. So too is the observance of bilateral agreements, and refraining from unilateral attempts to change the status quo of the boundary. So I think I'll just make that brief comment here and let's wait for him to take over. But since you raised his comment in a blog, I thought I would make that comment. As regards tweet you alluded to, regarding the Prime Minister of Nepal. Look, there has been tradition on various occasions, the Prime Minister of Nepal, visits India as his first foreign visit. He is most welcome to do so I'm sure. I don't have any specific update on that as regards timing or anything like that. But if he would like to visit India he is always welcome. So I don't think that is in question at all.

On G20, yes, I think briefed you on the conversation of Prime Minister, we issued a press release on Prime Minister's conversation with President Zelenskyy. I don't know if an invitation or discussions happened on that regard. I certainly don't have any update to share about any special invitees for the summit. It's still some time away. So but yes, G20 members and special invitee countries that we plan to invite have been announced. And I don't think Ukraine is on that one. If there is any change in that I'll certainly come back and share with you on that.

And final question was from you said lots of meetings are happening. Look, I think we're getting confused between G20 meetings as well as internal preparatory meetings. I think the two are very different. The G20 official meetings and their calendar will be shared. There are various levels of meetings. There is Summit, there are ministerial meetings, there are the Sherpa meetings, then there are working group meetings, there are engagement group meetings and we'll try to brief you separately as we go ahead. But I think Chief Secretary meeting, it is a completely different topic. And that is internal one. I think you saw Prime Minister brief I think, Chief Ministers and governors earlier he spoke to maybe its Chief Secretaries. So that's an internal meeting. I think that's not the right place for me to comment on that. Thank you very much for being here today. And best wishes for 2023 as we start this year today, with our first briefing. Good day.

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