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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit (January 25, 2018)

January 26, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Welcome to this special briefing session on ASEAN India Commemorative Summit. I have with me Secretary (East) as well as Jt. Secretary (South) Vinay who will brief us about the program which has happened so far Prime Minister’s bilateral meetings with six Heads of State and Heads of Government as well as with Sultan of Brunei. So without further delay I now handover the floor to Secretary (East).

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran:Good afternoon dear friends and apologies for keeping you waiting. I have just come straight from Rashtrapati Bhavan. As you know there is an air of festivity in our city from yesterday onwards one by one the leaders of the ten ASEAN countries started arriving and the last of the leaders to arrive was President of Indonesia, he arrived earlier today. Now all ten are in town the reason is that they are Chief Guests for our Republic Day and we are also commemorating 25 years of India ASEAN relations. So the summit has not really started and I am going to be rushing through this media briefing because there will be plenary session that will begin in exactly five minutes from now.

Let me first tell you the significance of this event. You are aware that we are really celebrating 25 years of India-ASEAN relations and in that context our Prime Minister had invited all the ten leaders of ASEAN to come for a commemorative summit. This is the second one in five years, the last one was held in 2012 to commemorate 20 years of India ASEAN friendship.

This is significant because 25thyear obviously has a huge significance but what makes it absolutely historic is the fact that we would have all the ten leaders as Chief Guests for our Republic Day. That is unprecedented, it has never happened before and there are elements of Republic Day in their participation which I can tell you as part of the program.

So let my quickly tell you, after their arrival, you know that Prime Minister returned from Davos yesterday morning and soon thereafter the leaders started arriving and he went straight into receiving them bilaterally as well, I will go into that separately.

So already our Prime Minister had six bilateral meetings out of the ten ASEAN leaders. This morning the formal program began with lunch and banquet hosted by Rashtrapati Ji and that was followed by a retreat session, hosted by Prime Minister and in five minutes from now they will move into a plenary session of the summit. You will be able to see it on television as well because there is one portion of the summit plenary proceedings which is really our Prime Minister’s opening remarks and the Chair of ASEAN, which happens to be Singapore this year, his opening remarks would be available in the presence of media, so it will be telecast.

Thereafter there will be a closed session. The theme of the summit is "Shared Values Common Destiny” and it is under that rubric that we would be discussing the entire gamut of India-ASEAN relations that are conducted under three pillars of political security, of economic and of socio-cultural cooperation. So we would be covering and leaders would be talking on these issues at the plenary. Thereafter our Prime Minister has organized a banquet in honor of visiting dignitaries which will also take place at Taj Hotel.

The plenary will begin with the traditional photo opportunity as we call it the family photo of the leaders together and followed by release of eleven stamps with a common theme of Ramayana which links countries of our region together and then they move into the discussions. Ramayan as you know has been an important theme and there are troops from all the ten ASEAN countries currently touring India performing Ramayana in Delhi at Kamani Auditorium and thereafter they will travel to other cities.

The bilaterals that Prime Minister has had so far have been with Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and with the Sultan of Brunei. Now I’ll separately go through what are the important elements of bilaterals with each of the leaders but the most important element about the bilateral, I can’t tell you much about the substantive content of the plenary session because it is yet to begin except for the broad framework under which the discussions will take place.

The fact that all the ten leaders are in town it does provide us an opportunity to our Prime Minister to individually meet with all the leaders on the margins of the ASEAN Summit. There was one aspect which was common to most of the meetings that our Prime Minister held since yesterday with the six leaders of the ASEAN countries since Prime Minister returned from Davos. There was one thing that was repeatedly mentioned was that they conveyed their deep appreciation for Prime Minister’s speech at Davos.

It has been extremely well received by the leadership of ASEAN in ASEAN countries because it has a very special resonance with each one of them given the subject that our Prime Minister spoke on. In fact our Prime Minister acknowledged that what he conveyed or expressed were really views that he picked up with his interactions with these very leaders because as you know he has been meeting them annually and he was really articulating the collective views of our countries together.

Specifically on other issues which are common, the most important element that our Prime Minister focused upon was he conveyed his deepest appreciation to the six leaders that he has met bilaterally and also in the retreat when he made his opening remarks. The fact that their presence here means so much to us, the fact that he invited all the ten leaders shows how ASEAN is at the fulcrum of India’s Act East Policy but their acceptance of his invitation and their complete presence of all ten of them is historic, as I mentioned, and therefore he used the opportunity of his bilateral meetings to convey his deepest appreciation and thanks to the leaders for their presence here.

It underscores the importance that we attach to our ASEAN relations and to the solidarity and centrality of ASEAN and its position in the regional security architecture. Of course the leaders thanked PM for the warm hospitality and they look forward to being Chief Guests tomorrow. As you know they will be there at the Republic Day parade and they will then also participate at the At Home to be hosted by Rashtrapati Ji.

All the leaders that PM met stated that India’s multifaceted cooperation with ASEAN is important for peace, security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Specifically as far as Myanmar is concerned there were of course the issues of bilateral and regional interests were discussed with the State Counselor. Prime Minister and State Counselor talked about further strengthening of bilateral relations, of operationalization of the Sittwe Port, the trilateral highway and other cross border trade. Of course peace and security along the border was yet another very important issue that was discussed and about India’s proposal of projects to construct housing in the Rakhine state for the development of the Rakhine state.

As far as the Prime Minister of Vietnam is concerned, when Prime Minister had visited Vietnam in September 2016 our strategic partnership was upgraded to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and under that rubric defence and maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region was discussed. The two prime ministers also talked about the operationalization of the $100 million Line of Credit which involves manufacturing of Off-shore Patrol Vessels which has been contracted to Larsen & Toubro. Another topic that was discussed was the need for tapping the full potential of bilateral trade and investment so that we can reach the trade target of $15 billion by 2020.

There was great appreciation of the high level of political exchanges that are taking place and continue to take place between our two countries and in that context it was decided to hold the joint commission meeting which is convened by the two Foreign Ministers, External Affairs Minister from our side, which will be held later this year.

You would also remember that when Prime Minister had gone to Vietnam, he had also made an offer of $500 million Line of Credit for which Vietnamese Prime Minister informed our Prime Minister that they are in the process of identifying projects that could be undertaken under this particular offer. He also said that soon Vietnam would be announcing direct flight between Vietnam and India and spoke about enhancing greater cooperation in offshore oil & gas sector.

Two MoUs were signed at the end of the discussions. One was of increasing cooperation and information in communications and the other was an implementation agreement on an ASEAN India Center of Satellite Tracking and Telemetry Station. There is one ASEAN India Center tracking station already in Biak in Indonesia and this one will further enhance our cooperation with ASEAN in that context and it will be hosted by Vietnam.

The next meeting which was held late last night was with the President of Philippines and in spite of the fact that by their local time it was almost perhaps midnight but the meeting was very cordial and they picked up thread from our own Prime Minister’s very successful visit to Manila which you know took place when he had gone for the ASEAN related summits last year in November.

Our Prime Minister conveyed his deep appreciation to President Duterte. You would be aware that there is this Mayon volcano that has erupted which is naturally a cause of concern and in fact because of that President Duterte had to delay his flight because he needed to attend to issues related to ensuring safety and whatever arrangements had to be made back home. So he delayed his flight but however he has come accompanied by a very high level delegation with several cabinet ministers once again underlining the importance that he personally attached to this visit and his presence as part of this summit and as Guest of Honor for our Republic Day and that gesture was deeply appreciated by our Prime Minister and he conveyed his sincerest thanks to him for that.

There was discussion about the menace of terrorism that we afflicted with, both Philippines and India and the region, in fact the world at large. There was an understanding that there was a need to work together for greater intelligence sharing, for capacity building on how to counter-terrorism and in that context President Duterte once against conveyed his deepest appreciation to our Prime Minister for the assistance of $500 thousand that was provided by India to re-settle victims of the Marawi siege.

Therefore in that context there was a very important discussion on countering terrorism and especially on how to deal with urban terrorism. In that context President Duterte did mention their own experience of countering the menace of drug trafficking which again is a very important subjects as it afflicts the youth of our two countries and must be combatted collectively.

There were shared concerns about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and about the international networks and linkages involved in such proliferation activities. President Duterte expressed interest and his desire for a greater cooperation with India in the pharmaceutical sector and it was agreed that a joint working group meeting could be set up in March to finalize the details. There was also a desire for enhancing cooperation in defence sector including in ship building and offshore patrol vessels in area where India has experience and strength.

President Duterte conveyed his appreciation of the role of the Indian community and that they have played a very positive role which they play by their presence in various fields including in economics and services sector. In fact he told our Prime Minister that he had grown up with Indians and he was very familiar with Indian culture and their commitment to hard work. So there was a personal resonance that he has as well.

Prime Minister himself, in turn, recalled to him that there were several students studying in Philippines who are in fact our Prime Minister’s state of Gujarat and they have also talked about the dynamism of President Duterte in his home state when he was Mayor before becoming the President of Philippines.

In addition to pharmaceutical sector, yet another area where our Prime Minister and President Duterte had discussion was on the importance of the participation of the Indian private sector in Infrastructure development. In fact there is an Indian company, GMR, which has won a major contract in building two airports in Philippines. So that was yet another area where appreciation of the performance of the Indian private sector industry in infrastructure was discussed.

Moving on to the next bilateral that Prime Minister had early this morning and that was with the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha. What is significant in the context of ASEAN summit is the fact that from July onwards Thailand will be the country coordinator. Singapore is the Chair of ASEAN this year and Thailand will be the country coordinator for India from July onwards and so country coordinator within the ASEAN countries is an important country for the interface between the ASEAN and India and so to that context Prime Minister conveyed his appreciation and said he looked forward to working with Thailand.

IN the same context let me just go back to the Vietnam because currently Vietnam is the country coordinator and again Vietnam has played a very important role in enhancing India’s participation in India-ASEAN relations.

Our Prime Minister talked about his Act East policy and the importance that he attaches to ASEAN both to individual countries as well as to the region. And in that context Thai Prime Minister spoke about their own Act West policy. So we have an Act East policy and they have an Act West policy and how there is a convergence of interest of the two policies of the two separate governments coming together.

They also talked about enhancing connectivity in this context apart from Thailand being a part of ASEAN, we work very closely with Thailand as part of the sub-regional grouping of the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation. Mekong-Ganga has Thailand in it and yet another grouping which is BIMSTEC. Along with India, Thailand is also a founding member of BIMSTEC so those are other two regional groupings where there is a lot that we can work together.

Bilaterally they did discuss about greater cooperation in defence and maritime security, about enhancing regular ship visits and exercises, about the prospect of cooperation coastal surveillance radar systems and offshore patrol vessels. There was a proposal for greater cooperation in maritime natural resources and tourism. You know that Thailand is a very important destination for tourism. India again has a huge potential for enhancing tourism. The latest figures of Indian tourism sector have been very positive so that is yet another area where there is scope for cooperation in building package tourism between our two countries.

Moving on to Singapore, that was the fifth bilateral that our Prime Minister had again this morning. Again acknowledgement of the high level of political understanding and political exchanges that have taken place and continue to take place between our two countries.

You would be aware that our Prime Minister has been invited as the Chief Guest for the Shangri-La Dialogue which is the flagship event that takes place in Singapore and this time Prime Minister had accepted that invitation and he will be visiting in June.

In the context of Singapore and the ASEAN I have mentioned earlier that Singapore is the Chair of ASEAN so our Prime Minister conveyed his appreciation for Singapore’s very positive role in India’s participation in India-ASEAN relations and about our optimism that we were certain that Singapore would guide the ASEAN process under the chairmanship of Singapore to enhance India-ASEAN relations.

Earlier this month Singapore had hosted the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. It was organized by the Ministry of External Affairs. Our External Affairs Minister had hosted that event. It had an overwhelming support and participation of the Indian diaspora from all the ten ASEAN countries. It was entitled the India-ASEAN Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and so Singapore Prime Minister acknowledged that importance.

They did talk about fintech and Rupay. Two proposals regarding India’s Rupay and Singapore’s fintech and how these could decrease the cost of transactions and promote cashless economy, something that Singapore is also working towards. They did also hold discussions on early conclusion of the second round of CICA and about enhancing cooperation in civil aviation sector where our Prime Minister invited Singapore airlines to also start operations to other cities, especially Guwahati which is in the North East and North East being such an important connect to the ASEAN region.

You are aware that there is Singapore’s participation in building Amravati and some other cities as Smart Cities so there is an already existing good cooperation. Yet another area that was discusses was IT and Innovation and today there was op-ed which has been published in an Indian newspaper by the Prime Minister of Singapore in his capacity as Chair of ASEAN which is extremely forward looking and visionary and talks about enhancing India ASEAN relations.

Finally the last bilateral meeting that our Prime Minister had was with the Sultan of Brunei. They expressed satisfaction at the current state of relations. His Majesty the Sultan invited our Prime Minister to visit Brunei and our Prime Minister accepted that invitation.

Enhancing cooperation in health sector, IT. Around 11 thousand Indians contribute to education and health and the need to enhance cooperation in pharmaceuticals that was yet another one area which was very important.

Brunei is rich in oil & gas and they conveyed their desire for greater participation of India in this sector and also agreed to for greater exchange and security in defence cooperation and cultural and sports cooperation including Polo.

So these are broad frameworks of the bilaterals. I’ll stop here and take some questions. So I won’t be in a position to take more but tomorrow may be Raveesh can have another round.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Thank you Ma’am. As you know the plenary has already started, we are really running short of time so may be a few questions.

Question:Can you brief us about the Retreat that happened today afternoon on the maritime security and the related issues?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: You know that typically in any summit, of course there is a plenary, which also has an open session and a closed session. We usually brief you at the end of the closed session about what happened. So that is yet to take place so we will let you know what happened later tonight or tomorrow.

As far as the retreat is concerned, you know the thumb rule of retreat is that it is a retreat. And there is not much that one can really disclose. It was on maritime cooperation. The leaders did agree to establish a mechanism for greater cooperation in the maritime domain sector and addressing both traditional and non-traditional challenges that all of us face collectively since they are all sea faring nations.

In fact they did recall the importance of India’s maritime traditional and historical linkages, the trade routes through which our religion, our trade has continued through these waters. Of course I can only share one nugget of the discussions, it is from our Prime Minister that he talked about Naari Shakti (Women Power) and you would be aware that there is a six member Indian Navy women team that is currently circumnavigating the Southern Hemisphere and our Prime Minister offered that we could maybe have an ASEAN-India Women’s Navy Team to do such a circumnavigation. I am sharing this simply because it has a resonance, I am sure it will have with you, with me it certainly does. The rest of the retreat discussions are in a retreat format, so that is about all I can share. Thank you.

Question:Any discussion on South China Sea with ASEAN leaders?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: In the sense if you are talking about the bilateral discussions I think I have already run through that list, you can pick up from there.

Question:Could you just tell us something about this issue of rules based order in South China Sea in the ASEAN regional architecture was discussed because China having maritime disputes with several ASEAN nations and we are playing a greater role now in that region, so was this issue come up, was China discussed, the South China Sea and rules based order?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: We have not yet started this summit yet as far as the plenary is concerned, it is yet to be discussed. In fact if we continue this Q & A we might even miss what the summit is discussing. So really I will be in a position to tell you what the summit discussed after it is over. I don’t think I will be in a position to share any specific questions about that yet.

Question: Defence has emerged as an important factor of cooperation between India and ASEAN countries. Has there been any specific projects which have been discussed especially in the case of Vietnam, any missile cooperation which has been discussed because India did discuss the issue of Brahmos or Akash missile sale to Vietnam?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Individually with several of the ASEAN countries we have a very strong defence cooperation. The intensity of our defence cooperation obviously varies from country to country. With some naturally this is more, there is with Vietnam we have had historical cooperation, particularly our navy to navy cooperation on capacity building has been strong and it will continue to be discussed bilaterally.

Question:If I ask in a nutshell what is the common expectation from India in all the six bilaterals and what India has been commonly expecting from them, just to sum up?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: A common strain in our relationship with ASEAN, one, I think is the recognition of the very positive role that India has played in strengthening ASEAN, in enhancing ASEAN solidarity and unity, in the regional architecture of the Indo-pacific and that was repeatedly appreciated and that they would like to have greater and enhanced cooperation with India. The fact that there is recognition that our cooperation with ASEAN is multifaceted and that India has played a very important role in peace, security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and they would certainly like to work more with India in this context.

Question:During the ADMM Plus Defence Minister’s meeting actually before the ASEAN summit in Manila India’s handling of Doklam issue was appreciated by various ASEAN member countries. I just spoke to reports by senior defence ministry officials that India’s role and the way India handled the crisis was deeply appreciated. So did this issue figure in some of the bilateral meetings PM had in the last two days? Was it discussed or did it figure?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Regarding ADMM Plus specifically it was not.

Question:In all these six bilateral meetings was it a common refrain or there was an articulation that India should play a bigger security role in the Indo-Pacific region and the East Asia region?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I think I have already mentioned what was the common refrain about the appreciation of India’s role in contributing to peace, security and stability, and the potential about India’s growth and how we can work together for our mutual prosperity and that would remain. Of course one repeated refrain was aslo of RCEP that there is a desire on the part of the ASEAN countries that they would like RCEP to move forward. Prime Minister has also mentioned our desire to make RCEP move forward and a balanced outcome should come out of it. So Prime Minister once again reassured our commitment to RCEP and a balanced outcome which is mutually beneficial to all parties.

Another repeated refrain was really appreciation of India’s growth story and that is something that they wanted to hear more from our Prime Minister, the major initiatives that he has taken, cashless was one, various liberalization that have been taken, the fight against corruption. Unique Identity was another area in fact specifically President of Philippines requested our Prime Minister becausehe is also very keen on financial inclusion and fighting corruption and he did show a great deal of interest in Aadhar system and our Prime Minister offered that we would be very happy to offer our expertise.

And lastly they had a delegation from Philippines to understand the Aadhar system and they would like to learn from us. So overall if you ask me what the repeated refrain was, it was really that they look at India’s growth story and that they feel that there is potential for greater trade and investment given their own dynamism and dynamism of Indian economy.

Question:Were there queries from Philippines on how the Aadhar system works?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I just replied that they have sent a delegation last week to understand our Aadhar system. There is a great deal of interest on the part of the Philippines to learn from India’s experience, so our Prime Minister has offered that we would be very happy to share our experience with Philippines.

Question:In you last briefing on ASEAN summit you had mentioned that there would be some kind of a maritime agreement. Is that agreement coming?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: There is an ongoing discussion that is taking place, an MoU, on maritime transport agreement. There is a working group which is negotiating the text and we hope that we will be able to finalize it.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:With this we come to the conclusion of this special press briefing on ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. Thank you Ma’am, thank you Vinay and thank you all for joining. Have a good evening.

(Concludes)

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