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Transcript of media briefing by National Security Advisor (March 06, 2014)

March 07, 2014

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Welcome and thank you very much for being here this afternoon.

As has been indicated to you, we have requested the National Security Advisor to brief you on maritime cooperation. As is usual, I will request the National Security Advisor to make a few opening remarks before the floor is opened for questions on what he said. If there is any time further, we will see if he could answer a couple of questions on any other issue.

If the ground rules are clear, I will request the National Security Advisor to make his opening remarks.

National Security Advisor (Shri Shivshankar Menon):Good afternoon. I thought I would try and brief you on what we did in the Third NSA-Level Trilateral Meeting on Maritime Security where my counterparts from Sri Lanka and Maldives were present.

We met today. This is the third meeting. Starting with an October 2011 meeting in the Maldives where the Maldives had invited us, we had actually decided to try and see how we could improve maritime security in this region. As you know, it is something that matters considerably to all three of our economies.

If you look at the Indian Ocean, today over a 100,000 ships pass through the Indian Ocean every year. Something like 66 per cent of the world’s oil cargo, over 50 per cent of the world’s container traffic, and something like 33 per cent of the world’s bulk cargo go through the Indian Ocean every year. So it is very important to our economies and in terms of security for all of us. And it is not an issue that any single country can actually solve on its own. So we decided to see what we could do.

After preliminary work last year, we met in Colombo in July 2013 and we laid out a fairly comprehensive plan and set of steps that we would implement. Basically these cover three big areas. One is to know what is going on, maritime domain awareness, and to share information on what is happening in real time between us. We have now actually put in place the systems so that we can share, we see the same picture of what is going on in the maritime area around us. We have trained our people, we have nominated, we are putting in place the hardware so that we can share that information. The IMO has a system, for instance a long-range identification and tracking system for ships. We also have our own automatic identification system data which we now have one platform on which we will be sharing.

The second big set of things was to train our people together. We have trained them and built capacity in not just maritime domain awareness but in search and rescue, in oil pollution responses, and in other such functions. Most important, we have a set of joint activities that we undertake together, as you know the Dosti exercises which we carry on with the Maldives. Last time it has become a trilateral exercise, it has involved the Sri Lankan Navy as well.

We also coordinate joint action on search and rescue at sea. Whoever has the capability in the entire area, we work together. We work together on pollution control, whether it is oil spills, things which are beyond any individual country’s capacity. And we look at working jointly against piracy and other illegal activities, whether it is drugs smuggling, whether it is human trafficking. We have decided and set up systems to exchange information on these. On tsunami warnings as well which we do for the region, we share all that.

Having agreed that plan, today what we did was to review how we have done in practice. And frankly we were quite satisfied with the amount of progress that we have made in all these areas. We also then talked about some of the new ideas. For instance, we thought we might do some work on hydrography together because there is a need to update the data on what we know of the hydrography around us.

We also thought it would be useful to set up links between our maritime think tanks - we have a National Maritime Foundation for instance in India - and between resource persons in our societies who know about these things.

The other thing we had decided last year in June was to invite Seychelles and Mauritius to join us here in this meeting as Observers to see what we were doing and see whether they were interested in joining in this effort. They were here for the first time, they came this time. They did both said that they were very interested in this and would like to participate in these activities in the future.

All in all if I have to summarise what we have achieved, I think we have achieved a great deal in this field in terms of sheer practical cooperation between our coastguards, between our navies, between our various institutions concerned with maritime security. We have in place now a platform which will actually enhance concrete responses to situations, whether it is piracy, whether it is pollution, whether it is illegal activities such as drug running and so on.

We now I think can pool our capabilities. Each one contributes what they can to this joint effort. We all concluded that it was very useful and that we wanted to carry this forward.

I will stop there and open it up to questions if you have any.

Question:Since Seychelles and Mauritius have shown interest in joining this trilateral maritime cooperation, do you think it can be expanded to a five-nation effort?

National Security Advisor: I think because the initial three had decided to invite them as Observers to see, and I think the result of the discussion today where they were there throughout, it was clear they are interested. I think we will actually be associating them with it. I suppose we will have to change the name.

Question:How does this trilateral maritime dialogue fit in with other dialogues we are carrying with other countries say for instance with China.…(Inaudible)… How does it figure in the larger network?

National Security Advisor: We see this as an attempt to set up practical means of cooperation in the region. It is another thing that each of us has solid bilateral links with each other, all of us. We also have bilateral links and discussions with other powers. I do not think it really in any sense affects the other discussions. Those will go on as well. There are several forums which are doing this. But this I listed for you. That is why I went through the concrete, practical things that we are doing and to show what is. You will notice, it does not produce grand declarations and so on. What it does is real work, not on the ground, on the ocean.

Question:I have a question and a half if you do not mind. I wanted to know about this Setusamudram Shipping Canal project. My research threw up a few years ago that it would also be an asset to national security specifically for India, and ease access from the east to the west coast. And then just to add on to what my colleague said, are you thinking of including Myanmar since it is an Indian Ocean country, as an Observer in future meetings?

National Security Advisor: Frankly we have not quite figured out what we do on the Bay of Bengal side. Whether we try and expand it, I am not sure whether that is the answer frankly. And I am being open here. We still have to look at the various options. I am not sure whether Seychelles and Mauritius want to be involved in that or not because, as I said, all these kinds are practical steps. These are really as of now pretty local. We will come to that later. But yes, there is a need to look at maritime security in the Bay of Bengal. Maybe we should start conversations with our neighbours and see which is the best way to do it. Whether we replicate this or whether we expand this, I do not know. It is an open question.

On the question about Setusamudram, it did not come up and we have not actually discussed that at all here in this forum. Anyway it is in the courts here in India. So, it would be an academic discussion if we did. And as I said, we have concentrated on what we can do, what we are capable of doing and how we deal with it.

Question:Sir, you said that 100,000 ships are moving every year through the Indian Ocean and that the three countries are trying to guard those routes. What is the security challenge virtually? They must be going through the international waters. What is your responsibility? Are you going to tax? What type of responsibility do you carry in this region?

National Security Advisor: We are not going to tax or anything. That is not what we are trying to do. Legally, if you look at it under the law of the sea (UNCLOS), we have actual legal jurisdiction within our territorial waters which is 12 nautical miles. Beyond that in the Extended Economic Zone (EEZ) there is a right of innocent passage for warships, free passage for everyone else. But some of the resources and so on on the extended continental shelf belong to the coastal state. What we are trying to do is to make sure …(Inaudible)… Secondly the resources that are there, whether it is fisheries on which many of these economies depend to a large extent, are not disturbed by the pollution. Thirdly that…(Inaudible)… say for the mariners for those who use it. So, things like search and rescue…(Inaudible)… humanitarian disaster relief,…(Inaudible)… have systems in place to cope with these events when they occur. That is what we are trying to do as a group of countries who are in this Ocean.

Question:…(Inaudible)…

National Security Advisor: It is a national sovereign decision what we do within our territorial waters…(Inaudible)… larger issues like this, the ones that I mentioned to you, that we will deal with in this forum.

Question:This has to do with the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. Did the Sri Lankan side raise this issue especially with reference to Mauritius cosponsoring the resolution on Sri Lanka?

National Security Advisor: In the meeting they mentioned that for this kind of cooperation we need trust. And they mentioned that they were concerned that Mauritius had cosponsored the resolution in the HRC. But that was it, there was no come back. Certainly in our bilateral discussions with them, and we are having separate bilateral discussions, they talked about it and they told us what they thought.

Question:Just an extension of the last question. How do the political developments around Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu really play as far as these kind of maritime exercises are concerned? And one different question. The Lok Sabha poll dates were announced yesterday. We saw those pictures between AAP and BJP play out on the streets of Delhi. There have been apprehensions about Telangana. Are there internal worries or apprehensions that this could be a more violent election in some sort of a way?

National Security Advisor: I think the answer to your first question you can figure out for yourself. This has been going on since October 2011. And we have put in place a series of practical steps where we cooperate together. Politics of it goes on. The rest of it, whether it is resolutions in the Human Rights Council or whether it is the political situation in Sri Lanka, in India, all that goes on. Life goes on. That does not mean that ships stop moving or that we do not need to assure maritime security and that people do not lead ordinary lives which need to be kept safe and secure. So, I think the answer to your first question is just look at the facts, look at the timing of what we have been doing.

On the second question, I am not a forecaster, I am not an astrologer. I am not going to tell you whether it is going to be more or less violent than any other election. I would certainly hope not. We will do everything as the Government of India to ensure that it is as safe and secure as possible. That is all I can tell you at this stage.

Question:Recently we found that a lot of computers, many of them in North and South Blocks have been compromised through hacking and a report has gone to NTRO.

National Security Advisor: How do you know, Shrinjoy?

Question:Because it is with me also.

National Security Advisor: You have been hacking!

Question:No, Sir, the report. And it has apparently gone to you, also with the Communications Minister. Now is there anything special that you are doing? Many of these computers are very sensitive computers in North and South Blocks. Every password is available now, ISP numbers are available, all of them are. None of yours.

National Security Advisor: If anyone is interested, please contact Shrinjoy. He will tell you all about how to do it!

Hang on! Before you make a story out of something, there are viruses, there are different levels of security in various computers. And at any time there is a lot of, as you said, hacking, viruses, various forms of compromise. Not every compromise or every leaked password is a big threat to security. The mere fact that some computers in South Block or North Block are open, are accessible, that some people have access, it does not really mean that therefore there is a big gap in security.

We will deal with those computers that we think are compromised. But the way you described it just now it sounds as though all these things are in really bad shape. I do not think that is an accurate reflection of reality. And not every computer has to be protected, certainly the ones that are connected to the net. Everybody assumes those are open and nobody does classified or secret work on those kinds of computers. So, let us not paint this alarming picture of how bad things are.

And certainly, if we need advice, we will come to you!

Question:Mr. Shivshankar, this question is regarding the maritime security. It is one of the biggest challenges to the Indian security apparatus. Do you see India is equipped enough really to face this challenge or you have any assessment for the navy of India? And what could be the contribution of this trilateral agreement in terms of counterterrorism in this region?

National Security Advisor: Do we have enough? No, never. We will always want to improve our security, we want to do more. Are we better today than we were yesterday? Yes, we have much more capability today than we had five years ago certainly, because we have put in a lot of national effort into improving our coastal security especially. And that is something that gives us the basis to actually work with our partners in the region to do what we are doing now with Sri Lanka and the Maldives because we have built up certain capabilities. But I would be the last one to say, yes that is it, we have done everything that we need to do. There will always be more that we need to do to improve our security.

Counterterrorism is still obviously an interest for all of us. When I say that we share information and we also consider joint action against illegal activities, it includes terrorism. But the immediate threat that we have been facing in the last few years was piracy. That fortunately at least in the Arabian Sea and off the Horn of Africa is down, due to a variety of factors not just what the three of us are doing with this, the whole world has been actually working at that problem.

But even though the numbers may be down and it might have decreased because of the effort that we have put in, the primary source of the problem, which is on land, has not been solved. So, we need to keep putting in this effort. That is something that we also discussed. One of the subjects that we are working on together is actually the legal and other frameworks that we need to have in place to deal with the phenomenon of piracy. And counterterrorism certainly is one of the aspects that we work on. But do not forget, counterterrorism is something that we have worked on bilaterally for some time with our neighbours and our partners.

Question:Mr. Menon, could you share your assessment on the Ukraine crisis? How does it impact India? Now China has openly come in support of Russia and India has kept silent. The US has suspended its military-to-military relationship with Russia. How does it impact on India? Could you give your assessment please?

National Security Advisor: As far as we are concerned, we are watching what is happening in the Ukraine with some concern. We would hope that whatever internal issues there are within Ukraine are settled peacefully and that the broader issues of reconciling the various interests involved, and there are after all legitimate Russian and other interests involved, are discussed, negotiated, and that there is a satisfactory resolution to them. But more than that at this stage when everything is still fluid, I do not think we can tell you.

Question:Sir, since it is the election time, are you getting some indications or reports about increasing infiltration bids at the borders?

National Security Advisor: I think you should wait a little while. Elections were declared yesterday. I think you need a representative sample before you jump to any such conclusions.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much.


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