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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (August 11, 2023)

August 11, 2023

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this weekly media briefing. I do have one announcement, and then we can go ahead with the questions. The announcement relates to an advisory for Indian nationals in Niger. The Government of India is closely monitoring ongoing developments in Niger. In the light of the prevailing situation, Indian nationals whose presence is not essential are advised to leave the country as soon as possible. They may bear in mind that airspace is currently closed. When departing through a land border, utmost precautions may be taken to ensure safety and security. Those who may be planning travel to Niger in the coming days are also similarly advised to reconsider their travel plans until the situation normalizes. All those Indian nationals who have not registered with the Indian Embassy in Niamey are strongly advised to do so expeditiously. Indian nationals can reach emergency contact in the Embassy of India, Niamey at the number +227-9975-9975 for any assistance. We will also be issuing this advisory on our social media platforms shortly.

Siddhant: Hi, Sir, I am Siddhant from WION. My question is on China. China recently used water cannons against a Philippines boat. What's India's reaction to this aggressive action by China? And secondly, also, China has been opposing the usage of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" in the G20 documents. What has been the Indian reaction? Is it true and why China is opposing?

Yeshi Seli: This is Yeshi Seli from the New Indian Express. The UK security minister is in Delhi, and he met with Dr. Jaishankar yesterday, and he has said that 95,000 pounds will be invested for security, wherein they will counter pro-Khalistani supporters. So what does this entail? Meaning, what are the talks about?

Kallol: Kallol from the Hindu. There is big rally by the BNP that’s currently going on in Dhaka. There is a lot of pressure growing on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for going for a caretaker formation before the election. I mean there is also talk that this sort of pressure and confrontational politics between BNP and Awami league may actually lead to a third-party intervention, and that also includes the military. There's a newspaper column that has appeared for last few days about that. So I would really like to know, well, what is really India's thinking right now in this critical moment in Bangladesh's history?

Ayushi Agarwal: Ayushi Agarwal from ANI. Sir just to add on to that UK minister's visit here, was there any discussion or assurance given by him regarding our mission’s safety, our High Commission in London ahead of our Independence Day? Because we have seen in the past such extremist actions done by them.

Alex Travelli: Thanks. Alex Travelli with the New York Times. Two questions about the BRICS in South Africa coming up, starting in the 22nd. First, what is India's position on new membership of the BRICS? What countries might be considered and for what purposes? And secondly, what other objectives does India have with this BRICS Summit a few weeks before the G20 here?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay, thank you. Let me take from Siddhant. Your query was on the incident in South China Sea. Look, on this one, I think we have mentioned a few times. We have a long-standing position on this, on the need to adhere to the international law in the context of issues relating to South China Sea and also for a rules-based order. We have also underlined the need for peaceful settlement of disputes, and I think that's what we would reiterate related to your query.

As regards, you also asked, but that's a separate query, I think, about "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam". There was a story, I think, you are talking about a media report. I wouldn't like to comment on that media report in itself, but let me just say that the working language of the G20 meetings is English. As you are aware, the theme of our G20 presidency in English is One Earth, One Family, One Future. This is based on our civilization ethos of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam", which has received widespread support and permeates many of the initiatives that India has brought onto the G20 agenda. And this also finds reflection in the G20 logo, which has the words in Sanskrit as well as in English. So I would just leave it at that.

Yeshi, and I think Ayushi, you also had indirect query on that. Yes, you would have seen from External Affairs Minister's tweet, there was a meeting with UK minister of security, he was in Delhi. One of his engagements was with External Affairs Minister, although this is not a visit where we are the primary hosts. I think EAM has indicated the broad contours of the conversation that he had with the visiting minister. I don't want to clarify that any further. You raised the issue of security. Of course, this is an ongoing conversation that we have with the UK side on steps that we feel that the UK side and all host governments need to take to protect our diplomatic premises and security of our personnel. And in the context of 15th of August you mentioned, yes, of course, we always have additional measures that we request, but in this case, in some cases, we've seen some threats. But I don't want to discuss security measures per se in public. You had mentioned, Yeshi, about some announcement of some additional funding. But look, this is an announcement by them for their own internal thing. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on it. Perhaps you should check with them what they mean and how they will spend it. Certainly, we have been emphasizing the need for the UK side to take action against extremists and radicals, particularly those who are inciting violence and posing a security threat.

Kallol, your query was on developments in Bangladesh. I had, I think, spoken on it last week or the week before that. Look, I don't have really any particular comment on internal developments there. On the issue of caretaker government, the constitution has a position on it, and we haven't really commented on that. I don't have anything for you on that specifically. I wouldn't like to get into speculation of third parties, military intervention. Certainly, those are speculative, and we would hope the elections are held peacefully as they are being scheduled.

Alex, your queries were on BRICS. You were not here last week. I spoke at length on BRICS expansion, about the criteria, procedures, etc., that the leaders had mandated from the last BRICS summit. Discussions are underway at the Sherpa level certainly, and otherwise, on what could be this and what the criteria could be. Certainly, we are approaching this with a very positive mind and a positive framework, and let's see what the summit brings out in that process. I had also rejected some insinuations that India was against such expansion. We had said that's simply not true, and I'll repeat that. As regards what else we're expecting from summit, I think this is an organization that we have, of course, been participating right from inception, and this is something that we believe adds value. But I think I'll wait for… we usually have a formal, a more detailed briefing on Prime Minister's visit, and why don't we leave it for that for more detailed queries. For the moment, I'll stop here.

Shridhar: Sir, Shridhar from the Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. Would I know if Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have confirmed their participation for the G20 summit?

Sudhi Ranjan: Sir Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg. I wanted to know, we've been picking up that China has kind of given visas to Indian journalists in Beijing. Do you have any information on that? And subsequently, has India, therefore, changed or is reconsidering issuing visas to Chinese journalists in India?

Vishal Pandey: Sir main Vishal Pandey hoon Zee News se. Niger mai abhi kitne bhartiya fase huwe hain aur unko bahar nikalne ke liye kya sarkar ki taraf se koi vishesh yojna banayi ja rahi hain?

[Question in Hindi: Approximate translation] I am Vishal Pandey from Zee News, Sir. How many Indians are currently stranded in Niger, and is the government planning to evacuate them?

Abhishek Jha: Sir, I'm Abhishek Jha from CNN News18. My question is regarding Pakistan cricket team's upcoming visit to India. They have raised some security concern and they have said that they have approached Indian authorities as well. So, do you have any details of what kind of security concerns they have and what kind of arrangement they have sought?

Rishabh: Hi Sir, Rishabh from Times Now. So, Bilawal Bhutto, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, in his exit press conference before they dissolved the National Assembly on 9th made some comments on India, saying that his visit to India during SCO compelled India to go virtual in the SCO leaders' summit, saying that if the Pakistan Prime Minister was here, would have been a concern for India. This was the statement made by Bilawal Bhutto. So, how do you react to it? And furthermore, he has also said that we do not mix sports and politics and that's why we are sending the cricket team to India to go to India and defeat India in India. This is the foreign minister's statement.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay. You want me to say what to that? I don't know the question, really.

Rishabh: The first one.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay, the first part.

Suhasini Haider: This is Suhasini Haider from The Hindu. I wanted to ask about a Chinese warship that has arrived in the Colombo port. It’s called Hai Yang 24 Hao. And the question is, it’s coming a year after the previous such incident, has India raised concerns with the Sri Lankan government and any other details you can give us about that?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay, let me try to take some of these questions. Pakistan cricket team - I see that has some degree of interest, but before that perhaps your query was on the security concerns and your question was something related to that. Look, we have seen these reports regarding Pakistan cricket team's participation in the upcoming ICC World Cup to be hosted by India. Pakistan cricket team will be treated just like the cricket team of any other country participating in the ICC World Cup. As regards security issues, I think the question should be better directed towards our security agencies or the organisers. Of course, we would hope that all necessary security will be provided not just to them, but all other participating teams.

Regarding Rishabh, your query is also related to Pakistan. Look, on the SCO summit, I think we have spoken on more than two or three occasions, the different factors that led to virtual SCO, or organizing the SCO summit in a virtual mode. It would be certainly presumptuous of anyone to think that one factor or one person would have had a role to play in that. I'll leave it at that. And on the sports part, as I said, that's his comment. I hope there's a good match and I hope this is not a war, as it seems to be made out to.

Shridhar, regarding your query on participation and confirmation, I'm happy to say when we are in a position to do so, we will certainly share details. You may want to ask their governments whether they are coming or not. It would be a better place for the visitors to respond to whether they're coming. As I said, we have invited all the participants and we look forward to their participation.

Vishal aapka prashna tha Niger pe. Humne abhi ek advisory di, hamare jo baki bharat ke nagrik wahan hain unke liye. Par aapka prashn tha kitne log hain. Dekhiye kareeb 250 bhartiya nagrik hai, yah hamara anuman hai. Par ham chahenge ki jo abhi wahan hain, jinhone abhi register nahi kiya hai embassy ke sath toh woh kar le. Hamari embassy Niamey mai jo hain woh lagatar sampark banaye rakhe hue hain indian community ke sath. Aur hamain bataya gaya hain ki woh surakshit hain. Aur hamari embassy un logon ko jitna sahayata de sakti hain, unka departure, unka exit, desh se facilitate karne ke liye uska prayas kar rahi hain. Aur hum chahenge ki jo bharat ke nagrik jinko koi assistance ki jarurat hain woh hamari embassy se sampark kare taki agar kuch hum facilitate kar sake toh kar payenge. Par ye bhi kehna chahunga ki airspace band hain aur land route se jana itna aasan nahi hain. Par hamari taraf se hamesha ki tarah agar koi nagrik fasa hua hain toh unko hum jarur madat karenge.

[Answer in Hindi: Approximate translation] Vishal, your question was about Niger. We have just issued an advisory for the Indian nationals who are there. Your question was on how many people are there? Well, approximately around 250 Indian citizens are estimated to be there. We would like to urge those who haven't yet registered with the embassy to do so. Our embassy in Niamey is in continuous contact with the Indian community. We have been informed that they are safe. Our embassy is making efforts to facilitate the departure and exit from the country of those who wish to leave, providing whatever assistance it can. We encourage Indian citizens who require assistance to contact our embassy. However, it's important to note that the airspace is closed, and traveling via land routes isn't easy. But I'd also like to emphasize that, as always, we are committed to assisting any stranded citizens.

Sudhi your question was on journalist visas. Look, as I said, I won't get into individual cases of visas. We would hope that, you know, China ensures circumstances that allow our journalists to report, to stay there and report. And we have been in contact with the Chinese side on this issue. I have not received any particular information about any understanding in this regard.

Suhasini, your question was again on Chinese warship. Again, I have seen reports of a Chinese ship there. I am not sure whether it is a warship or not. I will only say that having seen these reports, I would emphasize the government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India's security interests and takes all necessary measures to defend them.

Smita Sharma: Smita Sharma here. I just wanted to check, baby Ariha's parents have said that they were summoned yesterday and told that basically all the visitations have been cancelled as there is no one to pick and drop Ariha. Also the toys that they got for her from India during the last visit, all of them have been returned. Any thoughts on that?

Suhasini: Since you were speaking about the Indians in Niger, I wanted to actually ask a converse story about Sudan. There are about 600 to 700 Sudanese nationals who were stranded in India after the civil war broke out on April 15th because most of them had come for medical care in India and now aren't returned, don't have recourse to funds back home, don't have any status here. I just wanted to ask a couple of questions. Is the MEA assisting them in any way? Is there visa concern? Are there visa extensions being given? And is the Sudanese embassy asking for any other kind of assistance?

Manash: This is Manash from PTI. This question was asked by somebody earlier. This is relating to the escalation of tension between Philippines and China in the South China Sea. So overall in fact, is it concerning for India because we have a lot at stake in the South China Sea. We have oil exploration blocks in South China Sea close to the Vietnamese part of the South China Sea. So how do you see this situation because China is hardening its position. Philippines is also reacting very strongly. So is it concerning for India, the overall situation?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Smita, regarding your question on the Indian baby in Germany, I don't have a specific update on that. I would also hesitate to talk on specific developments in a legal case for privacy and other requirements. But as we had mentioned earlier, we continue to remain engaged with German authorities on this case. Let me reiterate that we believe that the child who's currently in foster care, as you mentioned, is being denied her cultural rights and her rights as an Indian citizen. We will continue to press the German authorities for early return of the child to India. We are in touch with Germany, our embassy is in touch also. And I think the parents also are in touch with Indian officials from time to time. This is an issue that we attach priority to.

Suhasini on Sudan, as you are aware, regular flights to Sudan remain suspended since violence broke out a few months ago. There is very limited air connectivity and whatever is there is chartered flights between Port Sudan and nearby destinations. We are aware that some Sudanese nationals in India, for perhaps medical and education etc. reasons, are not being able to return to Sudan due to this situation. We are exploring various options for their stay while they're here as well as the repatriation. We are in touch with the Sudanese embassy in Delhi in this regard and of course whatever assistance we could do, we will certainly try to extend that.

Manash, your question is a little broader. I am in no position to feel that this is escalation or whether we're worried. Let me emphasize where we are on the South China Sea developments. We've always felt that the issues, disputes need to be resolved peacefully; there should be rules-based order; and we would certainly urge parties to follow that as well as ensure that these incidents do not happen. I mentioned specifically, I've already made a comment regarding the need to adhere to international law. I think I'll leave it at that.

Thank you all for joining us for this briefing.

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