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Transcript of media Interaction of External Affairs Minister following the conclusion of the plenary session of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit 2012

December 20, 2012

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good evening friends and thank you very much for being patient and willing to stay back after the event for this press event. As is usual, we will ask the External Affairs Minister to make his brief opening remarks following which we will have a few questions. However, given the limitations in terms of time and that the External Affairs Minister has to go ahead to his next event, we will limit the questions to just a few, maybe five or six. With that, I would request the External Affairs Minister to make his opening remarks.

External Affairs Minister (Shri Salman Khurshid): Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this press briefing on the occasion of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. You have participated in this. So you have a good idea of what transpired today.

I must acknowledge the presence of Secretary (East) Mr. Sanjay Singh along with his very efficient team of officials on whose shoulders rested the entire responsibility. I do believe that you will acknowledge and accept that this Commemorative Summit, the Plenary that you have seen, has gone off remarkably well and they deserve to be warmly congratulated.

As you saw, this is indeed the celebration of the 20 years of ASEAN-India relations, and the 10th year of the Summit-level partnership that we have developed. This was co-chaired by the Prime Minister of India, and His Excellency Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. It was attended by nine Heads of State or Government and the Vice-President of Philippines.

We will remind you that the sectoral dialogue partnership was first established in 1992, full dialogue partnership in 1996, and the Summit-level partnership was established in 2002. The second plan of action for the 2010-2015 years is progressing and is progressing well. The ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement has already contributed, as some of the participating countries have indicated, has increased manifold ASEAN-India trade which now stands at about US$ 80 million with our target of US$ 100 million for 2015.

The big news of course today for you is that, as the Prime Minister has said, the ASEAN-India dialogue partnership has been elevated to the level of strategic partnership at this commemorative summit. The leaders have today also adopted a vision statement, as was mentioned in the end, which emphasizes the collective vision for future of ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership for 2012-2022. The text of this vision statement will be made available to you shortly. In this vision statement India has reiterated its commitment to a stable and peaceful regional environment for pursuit of sustainable development in the ASEAN region.

The vision statement gives direction for further intensification of cooperation in the spheres of politico-security, economic, social, cultural, and connectivity pillars through specific concrete measures. On the politico-security front, ASEAN and India share a vision of a peaceful, prosperous, resurgent Asia which will contribute to global peace and security. We hope to further our cooperation to meet traditional and non-traditional challenges, maritime security, freedom of navigation, combat piracy, improve our disaster mitigation, and search and rescue capabilities.

In the economic field the leaders, as you would have noted, welcomed the successful conclusion of negotiations on the ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreement, something that we have worked on for a considerable time. The signing of these agreements will facilitate further economic integration between ASEAN and India which is a very important objective.

We have agreed to organize multi-sectoral strategic, economic dialogues. We have reiterated our commitment to achieving the target, as I said, of US$ 100 billion for 2015 and to promote private sector engagement including through PPP linkages. It also recognizes the need to ensure long-term food security and energy security in the region and the use of appropriate technology towards this end.

On the socio-cultural front we have agreed to intensify efforts to preserve and restore civilisational heritage monuments in the ASEAN countries. In this India will make a major contribution and will continue focus on bridging the development gaps amongst the ASEAN countries especially in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, which we consider as the CLMV countries.

In the important strategic priority of connectivity, the vision statement encourages enhancing the interface between ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee, and India’s Inter-Ministerial Group on ASEAN Transport Connectivity. The vision statement reiterates ASEAN-India commitment to assist the completion of the very important India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway, its extension to Lao PDR and Cambodia, and then connection to Vietnam to develop the Mekong-India Economic Corridor.

The ASEAN and Indian officials will in months ahead look at the formulation of specific initiatives to achieve the objectives stated in the vision statement. These initiatives will be funded through the ASEAN-India Fund, the ASEAN-India Green Fund, and the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Development Fund. India had announced US$ 50 million to the ASEAN-India Fund. The vision statement we believe will strengthen our bond and carry relations to their logical next higher level.

I will now be happy to answer the questions that you have been told I will answer. Thank you very much.

Question:Mr. Minister, India and ASEAN are among the most dynamic economies in the world. Ten years down the line where do you see these two regions being on the world map? And do you expect China to sort out its problems with India and ASEAN? If you include China in the whole region, every second person in the world will be from this part of the world. What do you think will happen ten years down the line?

External Affairs Minister: I think any serious observer of international relations will tell you, and I am sure you will tell ourselves, that the relations between India and China are going to be very significant in every dimension to the world of tomorrow, and indeed will dominate the 21st century. Here in the entire fabric of this relationship, we have to weave in our respective interaction and engagement of ASEAN because I think a lot of the economic energy will come from the ASEAN countries. They are and have been known as the Tigers of Asia. In that sense, the Tigers of Asia and the Elephants of Asia have to combine together to provide a stable economic, political and security atmosphere.

I do believe that we cannot completely ignore issues that arise from time to time between all of us bilaterally, separately sometimes in the multilateral field. I think they are all too small compared to the enormous advantage of cooperation and friendship between all of us. I think we all know this. China knows it; India knows this; and every country in the ASEAN knows it. I think that is the spirit in which we meet, and that is the spirit in which we will resolve our problems.

There is too much to lose if we do not overcome issues that for one reason or another arise from time to time or have plagued us for a very long time. But I have an optimistic view. I believe that any negative dimensions of our relationships are far too meager to in any way retard the enormous potential of growth on the positive side.

Question:Almost every ASEAN leader here spoke about and also our Prime Minister spoke about a deepening strategic content of India-ASEAN relationship. Could you please amplify what would that mean on the ground; in what specific areas we are going to see escalation? Maritime security is one of them. What would this strategic partnership mean in reality?

External Affairs Minister: There are two aspects, two dimensions of that. One dimension of that is that you should have the wherewithal for strategic reliance on each other and there connectivity, both economic and physical connectivity, is extremely important. As you saw, the Prime Minister actually spoke of digital connectivity. He spoke of road connectivity. We are already I think working in a fairly advanced stage on connectivity by air. When you have connectivity and then you have instruments of intervention in each others need - be it economic need, be it physical need - that gives you the strategic dimension, that dimension that you require.

Our ability to coordinate for relief work for instance, our ability to do disaster management for instance, our ability to have extensive dialogue to ensure that no untoward development casts a shadow on peace and prosperity in the region, and our ability to dialogue on every issue that could have adverse impact on our prospects, I think these are all building blocks of strategic relationship, and they have been I think fairly well-documented in the vision statement. But as we have said, officials now have to put together, to take this to the level deliverables, something that we can measure in terms of gain that we get every step. The fact that we meet every year would give us an opportunity to take stock that we are actually moving forward rather than in a standstill situation.

Question:Sir, what I wanted to ask about was the FTA negotiations. I believe the talks have been concluded. But the Prime Minister had expressed the hope that it would be signed in time for this summit. So, is there anything which is holding up the signing and is it possible to follow the road map set by the Prime Minister of Malaysia when he said that this thing should commence by 2013?

External Affairs Minister: We have concluded negotiations. They were tough and difficult, and for good reason. But the good news was that even before we came to the Plenary we had expressed satisfaction that we have reached conclusion of those negotiations. Now whatever follow-up on that is necessary will take place. But you can be sure that there are no hiccups left and there are no rough edges left for us to address. The negotiations have been completed successfully.

Question:When will they sign it?

External Affairs Minister: If you are successful in your negotiations there is nothing that stops you from signing. But obviously there are some steps to be taken towards organizing the signing ceremony. Now it is only the formalities that are left to do. I think the substantive part is over.

Question:Sir, the Singapore PM during his speech also mentioned about the air transport agreement with the ASEAN region. Has there been any forward movement on that? Has that been taken up by the Indian side?

External Affairs Minister: You know that we have signed bilateral agreements with individual countries, the latest being what the Prime Minister signed with Myanmar when he was there during May this year giving fifth freedom to us to be able to operate. I would imagine that that should be a very attractive proposition for various airlines in India who travel to ASEAN and particularly to Myanmar which we believe is a stepping stone to the larger ASEAN region or a bridge to the larger ASEAN region. I do know that the airlines sector has been a bit stressed in the recent past. But things are beginning to improve and I hope that in the months to come we will possibly see greater expansion.

As far as the ASEAN-wide matters are concerned, as you can see, our groups that are addressing transport issues will look at this as well. But the bilateral agreements do not either detract from what we want to do ASEAN-wide, and certainly in many ways they will actually contribute to the ultimate package that we will be able to work out with ASEAN.

Question:Vietnamese Prime Minister has referred to the crisis in South China Sea and also mentioned China, and also expected that India should play a role in conflict resolution. What is your response? Secondly, what is going to be the time frame for this trilateral connectivity in the ASEAN-India region?

External Affairs Minister: As far as the second question is concerned, the time frame is 2016. We will meet the deadlines. There are a few difficult things to be resolved. But I think we are reasonably certain that the deadline of 2016 will be met.

As far as the other issue is concerned, doing something about conflict includes not doing something about conflict. Sometimes you let conflict resolve itself because there are other better ways of it getting resolved than your interfering or intervening in it. There are fundamental issues there which do not require India’s intervention. But in terms of some perceptions that need to be either received or conveyed within the larger ASEAN family and the India-ASEAN dialogue, I think those have gently been done already. But I think that there are some issues that really need to be resolved between the countries concerned, issues of sovereignty between the countries concerned. And we see no reason why, as good neighbours, given that there is this larger landscape and fabric of ASEAN within which everybody interacts, they would not be able to find a solution. Let us just take it step by step instead of rushing in and complicating the matter any further.

Question:Sir, a little digression from ASEAN. The two Italian Marines are granted Christmas break. Is India going soft on them, Sir?

External Affairs Minister: Are you suggesting that some orders have been passed by court, we have seen the orders that have been passed by court. It is neither being harsh nor being soft. I think the courts have to decide what conditions have to be imposed. I think you are aware that in the earlier orders the courts have allowed a certain relaxation of conditions of bail but on the other hand also restricted movement and kept them confined to one particular guesthouse. Now, if the court in its wisdom has felt that some more conditions can be relaxed even temporarily because this is Christmas time and people have to show some degree of generosity and compassion at the time of Christmas for families to be together, we should respect what the court has done. I think the court must have sought assistance from all sides including from State lawyers and after that come to some conclusion.

I have not seen the order in detail but I know broadly speaking that some bail conditions have been waived and some temporary relief in terms of movement has been allowed to them. We will get the order and read it. But this is entirely a matter between the court and the petitioners. If we are asked to convey anything on behalf of the Italian Government, because they would presumably communicate whatever they have to through us, we will do so. The point is that we must not confuse two issues. We must not confuse what the court has to do with what we do in the normal course in terms of diplomatic relations with friendly countries.

Official Spokesperson:Just a small clarification.

External Affairs Minister: Just one correction. There wasn’t a specific new announcement of US$ 50 million. It is the US$ 50 million that has been announced previously. So, do not read it twice. I may have sounded as we were saying it twice. The decision that was taken on US$ 50 million was announced, but it is the same US$ 50 million. And obviously the funds when they are used up, then more funds can be considered. But US$ 50 million is what has been announced. It is not US$ 100 million, it is actually US$ 50 million.

Thank you very much.

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

(Concluded)

New Delhi
December 20, 2012

Please visit below mentioned link for video of this transcript
Press Conference after the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit 2012

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