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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (June 25, 2020)

June 26, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Namaskar and Good evening. Welcome to this virtual weekly briefing!I will start with an announcement. This is on the Vande Bharat Mission.I have an update for you. The Vande Bharat Mission has now been operational for the last 7 weeks, of a total number of 513047 Indians, who have registered their request with our missions abroad for repatriation to India. As of today, 364209 have returned under this mission. In the first 3 phases of the Vande Bharat Mission, around 875 international flights were scheduled for operation from over 50 countries across 5 continents. So far more than 700 of these flights have reached India, repatriating around 150000 Indians. The remaining 175 flights under phase 3 are expected to reach in the coming days. These Vande Bharat Mission flights have been instrumental in addressing the immediate requirement of stranded Indians from many parts of the world. We are committed to bringing back our remaining compatriots, particularly in the GCC countries, Malaysia, Singapore, among other places. In order to continue with our efforts phase 4 of Vande Bharat Mission has been firmed up with effect from 3rd July 2020. Phase 4 will particularly focus on countries where we still have a large number of Indians who have registered to return. Apart from these, chartered flight operations, which commenced on 26th May 2020 have steadily increased over the past weeks. These flights have also brought back seafarers and crews of shipping companies stranded in various places. Till date, 130061 persons have returned on these chartered flights.Demand for these flights remains very high, especially in the Gulf region and therefore we are moving to further streamline the process. Repatriation from neighbouring countries have also been happening through land borders. More than 84000 Indians have returned through land border immigration checkpoints, from Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Repatriations through naval ships have also been part of this mission. One such repatriation is presently underway. INS Jalashwa has reached the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran on 24th June, to bring back Indian citizens and their embarkation will commence today. So this is by way of update on the Vande Bharat Mission and now I will move on to your questions and I will request Pawan to read them out.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): The first set of questions is on Nepal. Questions on the issue of flood mitigation in the state of Bihar have been asked by Abhishek Jha, DD News - he asks, there have been reports of Nepal stalling river embankment by the Bihar government. What is the present situation? Has the issue been raised with Nepal by the Indian side? Rekha Dixit from The Week has asked - can we have MEAs response to Nepal preventing flood mitigation work in Bihar? Manish Kumar Jha from Business World has asked - Bihar government has alarmed of flood threats as barricades put up by the Nepal on its border with India is obstructing embankment repair work on Gandak barrage, essentially for flood control. In the wake of early monsoon in Bihar, what is the situation now and the steps taken by MEA to avoid the crisis? Narendra Nath from Navbharat Times has asked – (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation)Is there any proposal for secretary level talks between Nepal and India? Did the Ministry of External Affairs contact Nepal regarding the dam in Bihar? The Bihar government wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs for this.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, to this, the response is that regarding these flood embankment works, there's already an existing bilateral mechanism between India and Nepal with regard to flooding and inundation works, and the embankment and anti-erosion works have already commenced and are ongoing on some of the major rivers along the India-Nepal border. Both sides are coordinating on a real-time basis to minimize the damage due to flooding and inundation in this monsoon season.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): On the amendment of the Nepal constitution on its map, Mr Shankar Kumar from India vs Disinformation has asked - did Nepal authorities contact their Indian counterparts after the parliament passed amendment bill for the incorporation of new Nepal map? Mukesh Kaushik from Dainik Bhaskar has asked - new official map of Nepal shows Lipulekh area in their territory. Kailash Mansarovar yatra passes through this area. How this new map and official claim of Nepal is going to impact the Kailash Mansarovar yatra? Sanjeev Trivedi from News 24 has asked - Has India established any contact with the Nepal government after it passed the law on new map?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: You would have seen our response to media queries on the 13th of June where we had come out with a detailed statement. We have already made our position clear on this issue, so I would not like to add anything further.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): There is a question on trade with Nepal by Sidhant Sibal from WION - there are reports that state government of West Bengal has halted the movement of Nepali cargo trucks from the eastern border point of Kakarvitta. Do we have any comments on this?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sidhant, I can confirm to you that trade and supplies are going on without any hindrance, including at the Kakarvitta Panitanki border, and the two countries have extensive trade relations. Our bilateral trade is growing despite the lockdown. In fact, in the month of May it surpassed 300 million US dollars and despite the present challenging times of Covid, we have facilitated continuous and smooth flow of trade and supply of essential goods to Nepal.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Pranay Upadhyay from ABP News has asked - (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation)Recently there have been some reports that suggest that the Nepal Army is building new border posts in Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpidura areas, whether there was any military or diplomatic level talks with the Nepal government to avoid tension in this regard? Rekha Dixit from The Week has asked a similar question - will India also post armed personnel all along the border?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Pranay, (Answered in Hindi, Approximate translation) I would not like to make any further comment on this issue.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): On the citizenship related amendment in the Nepali constitution, Sidhant Sibal has asked - ruling Nepal Communist Party's leader – Bishnu Rijal has called the "Roti Beti ka Rishta" with India old rhetoric. This even his country is mulling a new law under which the Indian women marrying Nepalese citizens will get citizenship after seven years. Any reaction? Kallol from The Hindu has asked - Nepal's amended citizenship law will make foreign women wait for seven years before becoming Nepali nationals. This is likely to affect Indians who are married with Nepali men. Will MEA respond?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, we have seen the reports on this. What I'll say is that people of India and Nepal, we share deep-rooted and familial bonds and these bonds reflect the close, civilizational, and cultural linkages between our two countries.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Sachin Budhauliya from Univarta has asked - there are reports that China has occupied some hectares of land and a village of Nepal, illegally. How does India see this revelation? Sanjeev Trivedi from News 24 and Madhurendra from News Nation has also asked a question on the similar lines.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I would not like to comment on this.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Moving to Pakistan, Sidhant Sibal from WION has asked - any reaction on Pakistan and FATF grey listing? This even the US State Department report said, Islamabad made no efforts to use domestic authorities to prosecute other terrorist leaders such as Jaish-e-Mohammed founder, Masood Azhar and Sajid Mir, the mastermind of LeTs 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See on FATF, Pakistan continues to be on the FATF "Grey List" and it is yet to show action. It is yet to show progress on 13 of the 27 points under their action plan. This is despite all the deadlines for completing of the action have expired and this has expired a long time ago. The continued grey listing of Pakistan by FATF vindicates our position that Pakistan has not taken concrete action to address international concerns regarding terror financing and safe havens which exist in that country.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Abhishek Jha from DD News has asked - US State Department report says about Pakistan's complacency in prosecuting 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind Masood Azhar and Sajid Mir. Your reaction on this?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Well, this only vindicates our stand that Pakistan continues to be a safe haven for international terrorists and terrorist entities.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):
Sridhar Kumaraswami from Asian Age is asking - what is MEA's reaction to Pakistan naming 4 Indian nationals as terrorists?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Well, it is interesting that Pakistan has expressed surprise that UN has not approved the designation of Indian nationals proposed by Pakistan for listing under the UN's 1267 sanctions list. This could have only been expected given that those states, sponsoring terrorism, obviously don't have any credibility, whether it is on levelling fictitious charges against others or on the propaganda campaign on J&K.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Sanjeev Trivedi from News 24 has asked - the MEA release on the downsizing of the staff strength at the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi says it was done as a staff had terror links. Could MEA please elaborate on this a bit further?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I would refer you to our press release where we have clearly stated the reasons for asking for their repatriation.

Shri PawanBadhe, OSD (PR): Javed Akhtar from Deutsche Welle Urdu has asked - any update about Indian stranded in Pakistan and returning today?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Yes, I can confirm that repatriation of Indian nationals has started today from ICP Attari and this is expected to continue tomorrow and the day after. In fact, 748 Indian nationals have registered to return from Pakistan and we are facilitating their return in coordination with the Indian High Commission and the state governments.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) Pakistan has once again raised the issue of Kashmir in OIC. What is India's reaction?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: (Answered in Hindi, Approximate translation) See, Madhurendra, I would like to tell you that there is no ambiguity in our position and we have been clear and consistent. OIC has no locus standi in matters strictly internal to India, including the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. They have no locus standi to comment on the internal affairs of India. We have already said that OIC must desist from making such unwarranted references.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): I have 2 questions on the H-1B visa issue. Pranay Upadhyay from ABP News has asked (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) US President Donald Trump has recently announced cuts in several other categories of visas including H1B, H2B, B1 and B2. India has been raising its concerns over such cuts. In such a situation, what is the reaction of the Ministry of External Affairs on complete neglect of India? Nainima Basu from The Print has asked - why has India not reacted on the H-1B visa issue? How can you be sure that the US will not extend it beyond December 2020.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: We have seen the proclamation issued by President Trump on 22nd of June, temporarily suspending entry of certain categories of non-immigrant visa holders and their family members till 31st December 2020. This is likely to affect movement of Indian skilled professionals who avail of these non-immigrant visa programs to work lawfully in the US. We are assessing the impact of the order on Indian nationals and industry, in consultation with stakeholders. People-to-people linkages and trade and economic cooperation, especially in technology and innovation sectors are an important dimension of the US-India partnership. High-skilled Indian professionals, bring important skill sets, bridge technological gaps, and impart a competitive edge to the US economy. They have also been a critical component of the workforce that is at the forefront of providing COVID-19 related assistance in key sectors, including health, information technology, and financial services. The US has always welcomed talent and we hope our professionals will continue to be welcomed in the USA in the future.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):
I have 3 questions on Rakshamantri’s visit to Moscow. From ETV Bharat - as our defence minister represented our country at the Victory Day parade in Moscow yesterday, can you give details of what advances have been made in India-Russia defence deals? Also, what is the latest position of the US on India's purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia? Shailesh from National Defence has asked - Defence Minister Rajnath Singh just visited Russia to take part in the Victory Day celebrations, was there any discussion with Russia related to ongoing India-China LAC standoff? If yes, what was the outcome? Russia is a friend to both India and China, in case of conflict, would Russia side with India? Has India got an assurance on this? Manish Kumar Jha from Business World has asked - during the visit of defense minister to Russia and the address by EAM, S Jaishankar, there were reports about the purchase of 12 SU-30 MKI and 21 MIG-29s from Russia under the Government to Government, could MEA clarify?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Regarding discussions during the visit of Rakshamantri to Moscow, I would refer you to the remarks made by him in his press interaction on the 23rd of June and on the purchase of specific defence equipment, I would ask you to check with the Ministry of Defence.

MrPawanBadhe, OSD (PR):
Devirupa Mitra from The Wire has asked - does India support the Russian proposal backed by China of a RIC Defence Chief's meet?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Devirupa, I don't have any information on that and I would not like to comment. I would like you to draw your attention to the opening remarks made by EAM at the RIC video conference which was put out by us on the 23rd of June.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Maha Siddiqui from CNN News18 has asked - has there been any intimation from UK to India that Vijay Mallya can't be extradited just yet, as a request for political asylum is under consideration?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Maha, I don't have any further update on that. You would have heard what I conveyed in the briefing last week, which is that we are in touch with the UK side for his early extradition and on his asylum requests, we've conveyed that there is no basis for such a request since we don't see any grounds for his persecution in India.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):
Kallol from The Hindu has asked - Taliban has said they are not behind the kidnapping of Afghan Sikh, Nedan Singh. We will punish the kidnappers if we capture them. Will India respond to the statement?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Kallol, you would have seen the response I made to media queries on the 22nd of June, where we have strongly condemned the abduction of Mr Nedan Singh, and we see this as targeting and persecution of minority community by terrorists and this is at the behest of their external supporters. We have called upon Afghanistan to ensure his safe and early release.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Prashant from Asia Net has asked - has MEA informed Kerala about the practical issues related to Covid testing of all passengers coming on the Vande Bharat flights?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Prashant, there was a suggestion from the government of Kerala that Covid testing of passengers returning on Vande Bharat flights be done, and after consultation with our missions in the Gulf countries, we responded to them, we responded, that is to the Kerala government, and we indicated that there are practical difficulties in this regard. At present, only UAE has arrangements for full testing, Qatar provides for limited testing, and in other countries in the region, prior testing is not feasible, as there are issues related to cost, to time, and to availability of testing. This has been conveyed to the Government of Kerala.

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Coming to China, we have received several questions. I will read out a few. On disengagement and de-escalation and WMCC, Shrinjoy from Times Now has asked - after meetings on 22nd June and 24th June, both India and China announced that they have agreed to disengage and de-escalate. Has the process of moving back troops by China begun? Pranay Upadhyay from ABP News has asked - can you please share some details about the agreed plan of disengagement and de-escalation of border tensions in the recent dialogues with China? Elizabeth Roche from Mint has asked - how would you characterize India-China relations after the talks between the senior military commanders at the WMCC? Have tensions been lessened? Is there better understanding between the two sides? Is there a sense of what motivated the Chinese to take the actions they have done? She's further asked - any further talks at the military or WMCC level planned, subsequent to what happened this week? Has there been any contact between the two special representatives so far since May when the tensions began? Has there been any contact between the foreign secretary and his counterpart or anyone else in the Chinese government, any contact between the two Foreign Ministers post 17th June? Neeraj Kumar from News18 India has asked - (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) After the WMCC meeting, China's official statement talks about the implementation of the agreements of June 6 and 22, while in India's statement, only to implement the agreement of June 6, what does it mean? Are there any differences between the two countries on implementing the June 6 and 22 agreements?
Similar questions have been asked Shashidhar Pathak from Amar Ujala, Sidhant Sibal from WION, Agni Roy from ABP, Shubhajit Roy from Indian Express, Abhishek Jha from DD News. On the latest satellite images and the increased deployment – Sanjeev Trivedi from News24 has asked - observers say China uses talks as a tactical ploy to buy time. Satellite images of increased Chinese deployment along the LAC have been making rounds. What does MEA have to say? Neeraj Kumar from News18 India has asked - (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation)Has China increased its military strength in parts of Northern Ladakh?
Athar Khan from Times Now has asked - satellite images have shown that Chinese structures are back in Galwan. Does that mean that despite multiple engagements with them, militarily and at diplomatic level, China has not honoured their pledge of de-escalation and verifiable disengagement. What is the MEA position on this? Also, reports of a 30% troop surge opposite DBO and Depsang, would appreciate comments on this too. Parikshit Luthra from CNBC has asked - reports suggest China has restored the structure in Galwan that was destroyed by the Indian troops on 15th June. Simultaneously the Chinese have increased troop deployment, construction activity in the Galwan and other areas of LAC. They were included in the Depsang area as well. Isn't this contradictory to the understanding reached? Pranay Upadhyay from ABP News has asked - can you please clarify whether the Chinese PLA troops have re-erected tents at PP14 in the Galwan Valley. Is the tent on the Indian side of the LAC or on their own side? As of date, at how many point Chinese and Indian soldiers are in face of situation? Similar questions have been asked by Madhurendra from News Nation, Ashok Sharma from Associate Press, Sridhar Kumaraswami from Asian Age, Aneesh Kumar from UNI, Shrinjoy from Times Now, Kadambini Sharma from NDTV, Aarti Tikoo Singh from INS, Pankaj Pandey from Hindustan, Shubhojit from Indian Express, Maha from CNN News18, Shankar from India vs Disinformation, Devirupa Mitra from The Wire, Sachin Budhauliya from Univarta. On Chinese MFA and MOD statement yesterday, Sandeep Dixit from The Tribune has asked - how does MEA look respond to the belligerence in statements from MFA and MOD China on owning the entire Galwan Valley? Kadambini Sharma from NDTV has asked - there was a statement by Chinese MFA that MEA is giving fake news. This whole border mechanism talk was on, any reaction on this? On future talks and informal summits, Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) Are there any talks going on between India and China this year on Informal Summit? Any information about the Informal Summit this year between Modi and Jinping that MEA would like to share?
Nainima from The Print has asked - is the SR-level dialogue also contemplated between India and China? Deepak Ranajan from PTI Bhasha has asked - (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) China is constantly plotting amid recent developments in Ladakh. News of opening of new fronts is coming. What are the government and ministries doing at the diplomatic level? America is a strategic partner of India, are we not getting the expected cooperation from America?
Ranjit Kumar from Rakshak News has asked - in view of ongoing military tensions with China, is India going ahead with the celebration program of the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I see there many questions from all of you. I will respond with a detailed readout.

In recent days, we have made our position clear on the unfolding developments in the Western Sector of India China Border areas. In particular, our statement of 20th June provided the relevant facts and clearly established it has been the Chinese actions thus far which have led to increase in tension in the region and also to the violent face-off of 15th June with casualties.

In early May, the Chinese side had taken action to hinder India's normal, traditional patrolling pattern in the Galwan Valley area. The resulting face-off was addressed by the ground commanders as per the provisions of the bilateral agreements and protocols. In mid-May, the Chinese side sought to change the status quo in other areas of the Western Sector. We had registered our protest on the Chinese actions through both the Diplomatic and Military channels, and made it clear that any such change was unacceptable to us. Subsequently, the Senior Commanders met on 6 June 2020 and agreed on a process for de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC that involved reciprocal actions. Both sides had agreed to respect and abide by the LAC and not undertake any activity to alter the status quo.

As I mentioned in my statement on 20th June, the Chinese side departed from these understandings in respect of the LAC in the Galwan Valley area and sought to erect structures just across the LAC. When this attempt was foiled, Chinese troops took violent actions on 15 June 2020 that directly resulted in casualties. Thereafter, both sides remain deployed in large numbers in the region, while military and diplomatic contacts are continuing.

The incidents and face-offs along the LAC need to be understood in the larger context of recent developments. That also helps to bring out the key issues that both sides are seeking to address. At the heart of the matter is that since early May, the Chinese side has been amassing a large contingent of troops and armaments along the LAC. This is not in accordance with the provisions of our various bilateral agreements, especially the key 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. This notes in particular that ‘each side will keep its military forces in the areas along the line of actual control to a minimum level compatible with friendly and good neighbourly relations between the two countries’. Obviously, the Indian side had to undertake counter deployments and the resulting tension has thereafter expressed itself.

Respecting and strictly observing the Line of Actual Control is the basis for peace and tranquility in the border areas and explicitly recognized so in the 1993 and subsequent agreements. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas and abide scrupulously by it. They have been patrolling all along the LAC, including in the Galwan Valley, for a long time. All infrastructure built by the Indian side has always been on its own side of the LAC. The Indian side has never undertaken any actions across the LAC and has never attempted to unilaterally change the status quo. However, that has not been reciprocated by the Chinese side and that from time to time has led to face-offs.

Over many years, both sides have developed patterns of patrolling and it is reasonable expectation that patrols will not be obstructed in the discharge of their legitimate duties. Unfortunately, we have experienced in the last many years obstruction to patrolling that often accompany efforts to unilaterally change the status quo. To provide for situations where the two sides encounter each other, a set of procedures and norms have been mutually agreed upon. These are reflected in a number of agreements and understandings. While there have been occasional departures in the past, the conduct of Chinese forces this year has been in complete disregard of all mutually agreed norms.

The deployment of large body of troops and changes in behavior has also been aggravated by unjustified and untenable claims. The recent shift in the Chinese position on the Galwan Valley is one example.

The maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas is the basis of our bilateral relationship. It is imperative that the established mechanisms are used by both parties to address the current situation. The meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) yesterday was, therefore, a significant development. It was preceded by a discussion among senior military commanders on 22 June that focused on implementation¬¬ of the understandings reached between them on 6 June 2020.

You are also aware that the Foreign Ministers of the two countries had a conversation on 17 June 2020 and had agreed that the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner, and that the disengagement understanding of 6 June would be implemented.

We expect that the Chinese side to sincerely follow up on this understanding and ensure the expeditious restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas. A continuation of the current situation would only vitiate the atmosphere for the development of the relationship.

Any further questions Pawan?

Shri Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): No Sir, I do not have any other questions.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: So, thank you, that concludes this briefing. See you all next week.

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