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Transcript of on-board media briefing by Secretary (East) en-route to Jakarta from Brunei on Prime Minister’s ongoing visits to Brunei and Indonesia (October 10, 2013)

October 10, 2013

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good afternoon, or good evening, friends! We have here with us Secretary (East) who will brief you about the two bilateral meetings and also about the multilateral that Prime Minister had. I have requested him to first brief you about the bilaterals and the multilateral, and then answer any questions you may have. If that is alright, I will request Secretary (East) to make his opening remarks.

Secretary (East) (Shri Ashok Kantha): Thanks Akbar.

I will very briefly touch upon some of the main outcomes of East Asia Summit and ASEAN-India Summit, and then brief you about the two bilaterals that PM had with Australia and Japan. Though he also interacted with a number of other leaders, they were not structured meetings. He had interactions with several other leaders.

You will have already reported, I believe, that Sachin has announced his retirement, so there is very limited space available to you tomorrow. But for the record also I will highlight five, six important outcomes coming out of both East Asia Summit and ASEAN­­-India Summit.

The first point I would like to mention is announcement by PM about a separate fulltime resident Ambassador and Mission based in Jakarta to ASEAN. You would have seen PM’s statement. He has explained the rationale behind it. Essentially it arises out of the fact that we have a very substantive engagement with ASEAN already.

Last year we upgraded our relations with ASEAN to strategic partnership, and there is very rich potential in terms of other developments. We have as many as 26 dialogue mechanisms. So, even from a purely functional point of view we felt it is essential to have a separate Ambassador. It is also a signal to ASEAN community that we take them very seriously. This was appreciated in fact and the immediate response from ASEAN leaders was very positive.

The second point I would like to mention is about Nalanda University. As you know, in 2009 there was a joint press statement in East Asia Summit. But we felt that it is important to have a separate intergovernmental agreement or memorandum of understanding to reinforce the international character of Nalanda University. And we were very encouraged by the positive response that we received from EAS countries.

As you are aware, today eight countries including India have already signed on to MoU. These countries are, apart from India, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia. Several other countries have indicated that they will sign later. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for instance mentioned that they would like to sign, I expect, during Prime Minister’s visit to China.

This will help not only underline the international character of Nalanda University, which derives from global character of the ancient Nalanda, but also provide a structural framework for engaging EAS countries in this very important project we have undertaken.

One important aspect is that apart from EAS countries, the MoU we have signed today provides for involvement of non-EAS countries also. They can also sign on to this understanding later.

The third point is about trade and investment front. Here, during ASEAN-India Summit virtually all leaders emphasised the importance of an India-ASEAN FTA covering services and investment being signed within this year. So, our expectation is that possibly in the month of December we will have signing of the agreement. And we expect the agreement to come into force in July, 2014.

As described by I think Singapore Prime Minister, it is a milestone because not only it enlarges the scope of FTA we have with the ASEAN but it sets the stage for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). So, it is a very important development for us. As you know, we already have trade worth US$ 76 billion with ASEAN, with the target of raising it to US$ 100 billion by 2015 and US$ 200 billion by 2022.

The fourth point I would like to make is about connectivity. This is a very important agenda for us. While we are making progress in terms of physical infrastructure, especially the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway, we felt that time has come now to put in place the soft infrastructure of connectivity. We do not want to wait till 2016 before we start doing that.

Today Prime Minister has proposed that we start negotiations on ASEAN-India Transit Transport Agreement and we bring it to a conclusion by the year 2015. In addition to that we are also looking at a Maritime Transport Working Group, which we hope to set up soon which would link India with Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Prime Minister also suggested extension of the trilateral highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam. So, we have a very clear vision here in terms of linking up India with ASEAN. Prime Minister talked about economic corridors, he talked about special economic zones, he talked about innovative financial and institutional mechanisms. So, this is for us an extremely important initiative which has been taken and we propose to follow up quite proactively on that.

Apart from that, I think ASEAN leaders were very happy with the implementation of a plan of action which has been put in place between ASEAN and India and which was upgraded last year when we had the commemorative summit. The pace has been impressive. The formal document also they placed during ASEAN-India Summit expresses satisfaction with the pace of implementation of these understandings.

One other point which Prime Minister has mentioned in his concluding remarks, you might have noticed that. There is this expectation from ASEAN countries that the security dimension of Look East Policy needs to be developed further. And in response to these expectations we are holding discussions with them. For instance, later this year in November Brunei Darussalam are going to host a workshop on regional security architecture and principles for regional security. As part of that they have invited us to make a presentation on Look East Policy. So, they recognise the Look East Policy as an important security aspect. And Prime Minister responded to that in his concluding remarks. I think you have been briefed about that by Akbar earlier.

Maritime security was another area which came up for discussion, especially in the context of South China Sea. You would have seen Prime Minister’s remarks in his opening statement at the East Asia Summit. So, I will not go into detail on that.

Another aspect linked to security is expectation articulated during ASEAN-India Summit that we need to step up cooperation in areas like counterterrorism for instance or intelligence sharing with regard to counterterrorism, disaster management and mitigation, non-traditional security threats. This aspect is gaining traction but the point I am highlighting is in response to expectations which are emanating from our ASEAN colleagues.

These were some of the points I wanted to highlight with regard to Prime Minister’s participation in East Asia Summit. ASEAN-India Summit, I will not going into details. You have all the documents.

Coming to bilateral meetings, as I mentioned, there were two structured meetings, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. As you know, Prime Minister Abbott has taken over as Prime Minister only recently. After taking over as Prime Minister, publicly in his remarks he has been emphasising the importance of a much closer engagement with India. This message has come across loud and clear. During the meeting he had with Prime Minister this morning, he conveyed it very strongly.

He recalled his own association with India. In fact he spent three months in India in early 80s. In 1981 he recalled in some detail his stay in Hazaribagh, Daltonganj, Bokaro. He has very positive memories of India.

He said that he is committed to stepping up the strategic engagement with India in different aspects. He brought up the issue of nuclear cooperation agreement, and he said that he would like the negotiations on the agreement to be brought to closure at an early date. As you are aware, there have already been two rounds of discussions and we are trying to schedule the third round of discussions, possibly in December this year.

The two leaders also agreed that there is need for fast-tracking, stepping up, expediting the negotiations on CECA which has been going on for some time. There was also discussion on defence and security cooperation. Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to the understanding reached during Raksha Mantri’s visit to Australia recently about joint naval exercises in 2015. He talked about a new Colombo Plan where he would like students and scholars from Australia to visit India to gain a better understanding of Asia because he believes that the destiny of Australia is linked to countries like India, and they need to know more about India.

One more point I would like to make is that he again talked about Nalanda. In fact, Australia was one of the first countries which had come out in favour of conclusion of this inter-governmental MoU. He expressed the hope that Australian students will come and study in Nalanda University once it starts its academic work next year.

Prime Minister Abe, you are aware of the background of our relations with Japan. We have a global and strategic partnership with Japan, which is developing very strongly. We have the arrangement of annual summit. The Prime Minister was in Japan in May this year. The last summit took place on 29th May, if I remember correctly. We have in the pipeline a visit later this year of Emperor and Empress of Japan to India, and early next year of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself. I will not go into specific details.

The two Prime Minister’s talked about various flagship projects including our Prime Minister expressing appreciation for Japanese support for Delhi Metro project. They talked about Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, about dedicated freight corridor, Japanese investments in India, economic dimension of our relationship, CECA which was implemented in 2011.

Prime Minister Abe also raised defence and security cooperation. This is one area where Japanese have shown a lot of interest. When our PM had visited Tokyo in May, there was an understanding on annual naval exercises. So, later this year, we will have the second edition of naval exercises and Prime Minister Abe talked about.

In short, both these meetings were extremely productive. We saw clear evidence of a strong desire on the part of the two leaders – Abbott and Abe – as also our Prime Minister to take these two relationships forward. Both are strategic relationships, as you are aware.

I will be happy to take any questions you may have. Thank you.

Question: Mr. Secretary, I was just wondering if you could expand a little bit more about the request from ASEAN on the security cooperation which they are seeking with India. What does that really mean?

Secretary (East): The three pillars of our engagement with ASEAN are politico-security, economic and socio-cultural. So, this is one of the three pillars. We already have a fairly extensive engagement with ASEAN. We participate in ARF, we participate in ADMM+, now we have expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum. In addition to that there are a whole lot of other workshops and events in which we are interacting with them. I referred earlier to this process which Brunei Darussalam is commencing later this year with a dialogue on regional security architecture and principles governing regional security. They would like us to make a presentation there. That is one aspect.

The second aspect of course is about counterterrorism, about non-traditional security threats, about disaster mitigation. You would have seen, one of the initiatives taken by us relates to setting up of this 24/7 centre in Delhi as well as this virtual knowledge centre on disaster management which received very positive attention both from EAS member countries as also our ASEAN partners. So, it is already multifaceted but there is desire on the part of ASEAN countries that it can be developed even further.

Question: Mr. Kantha, what is India’s reaction to today’s statement on South China Sea? Is what our Prime Minister said matching? On South China Sea, are we for resolution of issues of the concerned countries bilaterally as China wants, or should it be on a platform like the ASEAN? Secondly, what is your reaction to America signing nuclear trade deal with Vietnam?

Secretary (East): I will talk about our position on South China Sea. I do not want to comment on position of other countries. Our position on South China Sea is very clear. Maritime security is important to everyone. Freedom of navigation is a principle which is accepted by everyone. We believe that whatever differences there are among countries concerned should be resolved through dialogue on the basis of international law. The next aspect is that we are for implementation of declaration on conduct that has been agreed upon among the concerned countries.

And finally, we favour early progress towards code of conduct. This position is very similar to consensus which has developed among EAS countries. I have not seen the final outcome document. But this is broadly the consensus among EAS countries.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): Vietnam, I do not have details on that. So, I would not be able to comment on it.

Question: I have a question about connectivity. We have stressed on developing soft infrastructure. How soon do you think we can have regular movement of trade and passengers between North-Eastern States and neighbouring Southeast Asian countries?

Secretary (East): There are two aspects to it. One, you must have physical connectivity. On that we have the trilateral highway project. The trilateral highway project, as you area aware, is making reasonably good progress. I had given the details yesterday, I will not repeat that. You have the information. We expect that trilateral highway project will be essentially completed by the year 2016.

But connectivity is only a vehicle. You need to utilise it. For that you need to put in place the requisite soft infrastructure. That is why today’s initiative of Prime Minister suggesting that we start discussions on ASEAN-India Transit Transport Agreement. This will cover various aspects including immigration, customs facilitation, seamless movement of cargo across national boundaries. All these aspects will be covered. And we prefer doing it in a multilateral set up rather than discussing with individual countries bilaterally. That is one aspect.

The second aspect is maritime connectivity, which is also very important. On that also we have agreed to have a task force. And we have already started discussions on these issues under the aegis of ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee-India (ACCC). The first round of dialogue took place in June this year and we will follow up.

The Prime Minister expressed the hope that this agreement we talked about should be ready by 2015, that this should be available before the physical connectivity is established through trilateral highway project.

Question: Just further on the South China Sea, is there a subtle difference between China saying that it will engage directly with countries, and India saying that it should be as per international law, or are they the same?

Secretary (East): I do not want to really start comparing our position with Chinese position. I will only talk about what is our position. Our position is that when there are differences among the countries concerned, they need to resolve, address those differences through dialogue on the basis of international laws. It is a very simple position. I will not like to start comparing what is our position and if there are any differences in the positions taken by other countries.

Question: December mein joh FTA hona hai, us mein kis tarah ki business opportunities create hongi? Khaas kar ke services mein manpower movement ko le kar ke reservations hain sabhi sides mein. Toh us mein immediate kya kya, specific sector-wise agar aap thoda detail de saken.

Secretary (East): Dekhiye, abhi joh humne pehle sign kiya tha, voh goods ke baare mein tha. Aur aap ko jaisa pata hai ki services sector mein hamein comparative advantage hai thoda. Is liye hum log keen thei ki services sector mein bhi jitna jaldi ho sake hai FTA ho jaana chahiye. Toh yeh prakriya chal rahi thi. Aur jab ki pichhli meeting hui joh hamaare CIM aaye thei yahan, ASEAN Economic Ministers–India meeting joh hota hai, us samay yeh complete hua aur yeh legal scrubbing ho gaya hai, ab sign karna hai.

As regards specific details, it is quite technical. I would not go into it. But our negotiators are quite happy with the outcome they have achieved. This will help give a significant boost to our trade with ASEAN countries in the services sector as also in promoting two-way flow of investment because it covers both. With the conclusion of this agreement, now we will have comprehensive framework in place covering all three key areas, trade in goods, trade in services, and investment. It will also, as I mentioned earlier, provide the requisite platform for moving on to the next stage, which is RCEP.

Question: I am coming back to the South China Sea. The Prime Minister in his opening remarks said that this Asia Pacific-ASEAN region faces threat from differences within the region.

Secretary (East): I have got PM’s statement on this issue right in front of me. PM did not make any reference to ...

Question: He talked about differences within, the threat to the region from differences within.

Secretary (East): What he said was that, I can read out this portion, "We should reaffirm principles of maritime security including the right to passage and unimpeded commerce according to international law, and peaceful settlement of maritime disputes”. The same position I had explained earlier. Clearly there are differences among the countries concerned on sovereignty. We are suggesting, as most of the countries are doing, that these differences should be resolved through dialogue on the basis of international law.

Question: Sir, you said that there was a discussion with Japanese PM about availing help to Delhi Metro project. The Kerala Government also is trying to avail a loan from JICA for Cochin Metro project. Has there been any progress on that?

Secretary (East): The discussion on Delhi Metro project was more in the context of Prime Minister expressing his appreciation. As you know, it is a flagship project in our development partnership with Japan. There was no detailed discussion on new projects. It was a relatively short meeting. So, this did not quite provide forum for detailed discussions.

Question: Can you please throw some more light on strategic aspect from Australia? One is nuclear power and there would be more.

Secretary (East): We have already fairly extensive defence and security cooperation and dialogue with Australia. Our Defence Minister had paid a visit to Australia recently where we agreed on some other initiatives including, as I mentioned earlier, our joint naval exercises in the year 2015. We have training cooperation. That is one aspect of security cooperation which is going on.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): We are holding dialogue on various issues pertaining to Asia Pacific region. This dialogue is taking place in various fora. It covers traditional and non-traditional security threats. It covers issues like maritime security, counterterrorism. So, one aspect is dialogue. Second aspect is service-service cooperation, which is also taking place. The third aspect, I talked about certain joint activities. The fourth aspect is strategic dialogue because Australia and India are strategic partners. So, these are the various dimensions of security engagement we have with Australia.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction.


Onboard AI-1
October 10, 2013


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