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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on upcoming visits of Prime Minister to Singapore and Indonesia (May 24, 2018)

May 25, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good afternoon friends and very warm welcome to this special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to Indonesia and Singapore. This will not be followed by my weekly briefing and simple reason is that we have annual press conference by our External Affairs Minister on Monday. So after the opening remarks by Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran, I also have Jt. Secretary (South), Mr. Manish, after the opening remarks we will have some time for questions and answers. Ma’am the floor is yours.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Thank you Raveesh. Good afternoon dear friends and a very warm welcome to the Ministry of External Affairs this afternoon for this special briefing for our Prime Minister’s visit to Indonesia and to Singapore which will be from May 29 to 2 June, 2018.

During this visit our Prime Minister will also deliver the key-note address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 01, 2018. This is our Prime Minister’s first official visit to Indonesia and his second official visit to Singapore. You would recall that in 2015 Prime Minister had gone in March for the funeral of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then in November he made his first official visit.

For those of you who have been following developments of our bilateral relations with South East Asian countries, you would have noticed that in the last four years we have had visits to all the ten ASEAN countries at the highest level i.e. at the level of our President, Vice President and our Prime Minister who have covered all the ten ASEAN countries.

Our Prime Minister’s visit takes place to Indonesia and to Singapore in this context of continued engagement with our a very important part of region with whom we attach a lot of importance which symbolizes our commitment to deepening relations with our strategic relations with ASEAN states in particular and with the Indo-Pacific region in general within the framework of our Act East Policy that was articulated by Prime Minister four years back in the ASEAN Summit in Nay Pyi Taw in 2014.

This visit also takes place in a landmark year in the context of India ASEAN relations. You would recall that we were very proud to have hosted all the ten leaders for the ASEAN India Commemorative Summit in January this year when we celebrated 25 years of our dialogue partnership, 15 years of our Summit partnership and 5 years of our strategic partnership with ASEAN.

You know that Indonesia hosts the ASEAN Secretariat and Singapore presently is the current Chair of ASEAN. Next year we will celebrate 70 years of India-Indonesia diplomatic relations. I’ll now move on to country specific details.

As far as Indonesia is concerned, I already mentioned that it is the first visit by our Prime Minister at the invitation of the President of Indonesia, President Joko Widodo, who as you would recall had visited India on a state visit in December 2016 and of course he was here again in January this year for the ASEAN India Commemorative Summit. Our Prime Minister and President Joko had first met officially in Nay Pyi Taw in 2014 and of course they have been meeting on the margins of the ASEAN related summits each year since then and at the G20 and other forums as well.

With Indonesia we share very deep historical, civilizational linkages. We share common values of democracy, of pluralism and of course respect for rule of law. India and Indonesia have had millennia old contacts. Indonesians themselves acknowledge that Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam all travelled to Indonesia from India. Our respective struggles for freedom from colonial rule was also marked by close friendship and collaboration at the level of our leaders both fighting for independence of our respective countries.

President Sukarno was the first Foreign Head of State to have visited India as a Chief Guest for our Republic Day and so we have had actually three leaders from Indonesia as Chief Guest on our Republic Day. Most recent of course being President Joko Widodo himself.

We are very strong maritime neighbors and strategic partners. Since 2005 we have had a strategic partnership with Indonesia and the country plays a very vital role in advancing India’s Act East Policy and in deepening our relations with ASEAN being the largest economy and the largest country in the ASEAN. We are in fact natural partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

Indonesia is a maritime neighbor in fact our closest maritime neighbor and a key economic partner for India in ASEAN. It is also our largest trading partner in ASEAN. We import large quantities of crude palm oil and also coal from Indonesia. In turn we export a lot of agricultural products including bovine meat and there is potential for other ……………. Within a decade four times so today it’s about $18 billion.

Indian companies have made significant investments in Indonesia and according to a study cumulative Indian investments in Indonesia is over $15 billion and about 2,50,000 jobs are created by Indian companies in Indonesia. The Indian investments are in the sectors of infrastructure, power, textiles, steel, automobiles, mining, banking and consumer goods.

Indian and Indonesia have robust bilateral mechanisms of cooperation. In just one year alone, since President Joko Widodo’s visit last year that is the December 2016 visit we have had high level ministerial interactions at the level of our Foreign Minister, Defence Minister, Commerce & Industry Minister, Energy Minister and also the first Security Dialogue, in fact this year started on a particularly propitious note with the visit of our External Affairs Minister to Indonesia for the Joint Commission Meeting followed soon thereafter by first Security Dialogue by the visit of their National Security Advisor’s very substantive meeting with our NSA. And of course President Joko Widodo visited in January as well. Key areas of cooperation for the future really is in pharmaceutical sector, in space, defence, security and infrastructure.

I’ll just give you some details about the program element of our Prime Minister. He will reach there on 29th May. The main date of engagement is 30th. He will begin by going to the Kalibata National Heroes Cemetery. Thereafter he will reach the Presidential Palace where he will be accorded a ceremonial welcome, a Guard of Honor, hold a tete-a-tete and then followed by bilateral delegation level talks.

There are some agreements that are under discussion in the area of Defence, Space and Science & Technology which are still being negotiated. So we will share details as we go along. Thereafter our leaders will visit the National Museum and inaugurate a Kite Festival. What is special about the Kite Festival is our cooperation between Museum Layang-layang of Jakarta and the Kite Museum of Ahmedabad and they will be depicting the common themes of Ramayan and Mahabharata, yet another very strong cultural, civilization linkage that we share with Indonesia should be showcased through this particular Kite Exhibition which will be viewed by our leaders together.

Our Prime Minister is also scheduled to address the Indian community and a CEOs forum. There are around 1,00,000 people of Indian origin in Indonesia and about 7000 NRI as professionals working in different parts of this beautiful country in multinationals and other companies as well.

Moving on to Singapore, I already mentioned that Prime Minister had visited Singapore twice in 2015 and when our relationship was upgraded to strategic partnership. Prime Minister of Singapore had been to official visit to India in October 2016 when our both Prime Ministers held substantive discussions and again this year for the ASEAN Commemorative Summit. Prime Minister Lee also co-chaired India ASEAN Commemorative Summit. I already mentioned that Singapore is our strategic partner and it plays a vital role in advancing India's Act East policy and deepening our relationship with ASEAN. We function on four pillars of our strategic partnership. One is security, the other is economic cooperation, the next is technology and innovation and the last is cultural links and the people to people contacts.

Singapore is the second largest source of investment in India accounting for 16% of total FDI in India. Between 2000 and 2017, over 8000 Indian companies registered in Singapore and our bilateral trade with Singapore is $16 billion accounting for 20% of India's trade with the ASEAN region. Singapore companies have become major partners in areas like Urban Development and Planning, Smart Cities and Infrastructure Development including Sports, Aviation, Industrial Parks and Logistics. India's oldest uninterrupted bilateral naval exercise is held with Singapore. There are about 242 flights per week each way connecting Singapore to 15 Indian cities. That just shows and it has really been a development in the last decade or so.

About 10% of Singapore nationals i.e. about 360000 are of Indian Origin. The total resident Indian population is estimated to be about 800000. Over 1.3 million Indians actually visit Singapore as tourist so they are really the third largest tourist component for the Singapore. Singapore has the highest concentration IIT and IIM alumni so that just shows the number of professionals that it has attracted.

I will just again give you a bit about our Prime Minister's program there. He reaches Singapore on 31st. He will begin his program by visiting an India Singapore Enterprise and Innovation exhibition which will showcase innovation in frontier technologies including artificial intelligence and fintech and innovation for social impact. The exhibits will be both from Indian and Singapore companies. Our Prime Minister will then participate in business and community events where he will speak about India's economic engagement with ASEAN and also talk about the reforms and investment climate in India.

Several business agreements are expected to be signed during that particular event. There after our Prime Minister will attend a CEOs round table of top 20 CEOs from Singapore and discuss business opportunities and investment opportunities in India. On June 1, his official program of visit will begin with a ceremonial welcome, a guard of honour, call on President of Singapore, delegation level talks and then of course there will be an official banquet that will be hosted in honour of our Prime Minister. It is expected that our discussions again are continuing and we will keep you updated but we hope to sign some agreements in the field Defence, Space and Skill development during this visit.

Apart from this official component of bilateral talks our Prime Minister will also visit Nanyang Technical University. This University is ranked the best Technological University in Asia and the 11th ranking in the world. It is considered a leading center for research in artificial intelligence and also has world-class water research center and an energy research institute. Our Prime Minister will interact with the President and the board members of this university and we hope that there will be some agreements signed between this university and some of the Indian institutes.

Later that day in the evening our Prime Minister will deliver that keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue. This would be the first time that an Indian Prime Minister has been invited to deliver the keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue. Leaders of several other countries have delivered keynote addresses earlier but it is the first time for an Indian Prime Minister. This dialogue is a platform to articulate regional security issues. Our Prime Minister would convey, as expected, India's views on peace and security in the region and India's role in the region.

The following day i.e. on June 2 our Prime Minister will unveil a plaque of Mahatma Gandhi at the Clifford Pier. This is the place where Mahatma Gandhiji’s ashes were immersed in the sea on the 27th of March, 1948. Our Prime Minister is also likely to visit some cultural sites which bring a close connect between India and Singapore. He will then visit the India Heritage Center where he will inaugurate a special exhibition on Indian Symbols and Scripts and Handicrafts. And then before departure our Prime Minister will visit the Changi Naval base where he will visit an Indian Naval ship and interact with officers and sailors of the Indian Navy and the Royal Singapore Navy.

I will stop here just to say that I am happy to take questions but that Prime Minister looks forward to his visit these two very important countries with whom we have strategic partnership and he look forwards to continuing the substantive discussions that he held with the leaders in January earlier this year. Thank You.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Ma’am. Now the floor is open for questions.

Question from The Week: You mentioned that there is an Indian naval ship there on a visit and the Prime Minister will be interacting. Could you name the ship please?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I’m sorry I don’t have the details at the moment. I will get you the details.

Question: Can you elaborate on ongoing defence and security cooperation programs between India and Indonesia?

Question from The Tribune: Just a related question because the defence cooperation agreement with Indonesia has also expired. So are we looking forward to the renewal of this cooperation? What is a likely new element that we can look forward to and if you could elaborate slightly more on the significance of the Shangri La Dialogue. What are the broad topics that we are expecting the Prime Minister to address?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: As far as the defence cooperation with Indonesia is concerned, I think our talks with them have intensified in the recent years and that is quite obvious by the fact that we had a Defence Minister’s meeting and the NSA level talks. Because they are our maritime neighbors, certainly there is interest on maritime domain awareness and about cooperation in maritime sector. So really navy to navy cooperation is an important element. Discussions are underway. Yes, you are right that we are also talking in terms of renewal of the defence cooperation but we will be able to share more details after the agreement has been signed and renewed.

Moving on to the Shangri La Dialogue has, for the last decade or so, become an important platform for "Track One.” So important leader from the world are invited from the Asia Pacific region have been invited. There have been other prime ministers and leaders from Australia, Japan, Korea and others who have articulated their views. Defence Ministers meet there regularly.

It certainly provides an opportunity for our Prime Minister to articulate his thoughts about India’s policies on peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and that would be the focus of his keynote address. Certainly it will give him an opportunity to share his philosophy of the Sagarmala as part of this keynote address. Let’s wait for the address to take place but this would be the broad framework I would imagine.

Question: On connectivity what will be the focus Andaman Islands are near Sabang Province so are we planning some kind of connectivity projects there, can you just elaborate on that? How much connectivity will be a focus with Indonesia and Singapore both?

Question: Connected question, the Indonesia Maritime Minister last week informed that we are in talks for gaining access to a port. So the question is are you going to increase Indian investment in that port so that you can develop it and because he has also offered submarine facilities for India, what do you have to say about those details?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: To begin first with the connectivity. I think connectivity is a very important component of our engagement not just with Indonesia and Singapore but with all of the ASEAN countries and you would recall that in 2015 our Prime Minister in fact offered lines of credit to the ASEAN countries for not just physical connectivity but digital and people to people connectivity as well.

So connectivity takes on a much bigger dimension but of course physical connectivity is a very important one including connectivity by land, by air and by sea. We are in fact in discussions with the ASEAN on all of these to have frameworks in position which will facilitate greater connectivity of India with the ASEAN countries.

You know that the North East of India is an important land bridge to the ASEAN region and then we of course have the maritime neighborhood. Specifically Indonesia being the closest maritime neighbor from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to Sabang is 90 nautical miles, so that’s how close it is and am told that on a clear day from an extreme edge we could actually see the lights of Singapore and the western most parts of Indonesian islands as well.

There have been discussions about building infrastructure, talks of not just sea ports but also airports. For example Indian companies have actively in fact been there. For example in Philippines recently there have been some announcement about GMR participating in airport project. So there would be interest in a lot of Indian companies to participate in building infrastructure, ports, airports etc. and that has been an ongoing discussion with Indonesia.

In the case of Singapore given the fact that they themselves have a lot of strength in the infrastructure sector and hey have been in discussions with several entities within India. So these are ongoing discussions and if there are specific projects, those we would be announcing at the time of the visit. So maybe it will be immature for me to share specifics at this time.

Question: This is regarding Indonesia. Recently, I think someone mentioned as well, Minister for Maritime Cooperation for Indonesia have made some positive comments about maritime security and cooperation as well though Indonesia is not officially part of the grouping quad, is there any plan, how should I put it delicately, is there a plan to re-stress or explore whether or not in principle, even though Indonesia is not part of that grouping, to get some sort of in principle support or is there a possibility of that likely to be explored during the visit?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: As I mentioned Indonesia is a very close maritime neighbor of ours and we are in discussion with them, of course bilaterally but very strongly in the ASEAN context with all the 10 ASEAN countries. We have had trilateral dialogue at the official level of Indonesia, Australia and India. India and Indonesia are very strong members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association as well. So IORA is yet another very important component where we have discussions with Indonesia. We will be very happy to further enhance our cooperation, collaboration and coordination with Indonesia. As far as discussions whether it is bilaterally or trilaterally or a much larger context is concerned given our strong and strategic interests and our economic strength in the relation.

Question: Both Singapore and Indonesia are actually very crucial for India’s maritime security. We are enhancing our cooperation in both the countires. But in fact Singapore had actually last year had reservations and Indonesia is also learned to have some reservations about having formation of a block like Quad among India, US, Australia and Japan. So will there be any discussions on in fact bridging the gaps or in fact to bring these two countries at the same platform and in fact leave aside your differences and then allow India to play greater role in the Quad format?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: There are questions that are getting liked to the Quad format which really should not be of concern because as far as our discussions with Indonesia, Singapore and other ASEAN countries is concerned. What we hear repeatedly from them is deep sense of appreciation about India’s position, as far as our interaction bilaterally are concerned or as far as ASEAN is concerned, because we have constantly maintained even in the context of Indo-Pacific region, we have maintained that we give primacy and importance to ASEAN’s unity and ASEAN Centrality in the region security architecture and that is something that has been deeply appreciated by all the ASEAN counties and certainly by Indonesia and Singapore and it is in that context that we will continue to engage with them both in the multilateral context, in the bilateral context and in the other contexts as well.

Question: You mentioned India’s investment in Indonesia. What about Indonesian investment in India and after the FTA with the ASEAN, has the trade deficit has increased or decreased in favor of India?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: No, you are right, I think we have more Indian investment in Indonesia than the other way round. Indonesian investment in India are relatively modest, about $700 million. But certainly we could do better and it is the fact that our Prime Minister is actually holding a business component as part of his official visit. The idea is to also attract and we are enunciating and talking in detail about the kind of reforms that have taken place, how India is a better place for trade and investment. The idea is in fact to attract more Indonesian investments into India as well and we hope that record will in fact improve.

As far as the India-ASEAN FTA in goods is concerned, yes it has done well. It has certainly helped enhance bilateral trade. I don’t have the break-up figures individually but certainly we will be happy to share those figures of what has been the trend vis-à-vis the Indonesia. But our trade with them has certainly improved four times from about $3 billion just a decade back to $15 billion, speaks for itself.

Question: Has there been any improvement as far as the Quad itself is concerned because we had informal talks on Quad but there has been no official higher level talks. So has there been any improvement?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: This is not linked to the visit. I think Quad question has been answered by Secretary and I will not take any other question on Quad.

Question: Since many Heads of State would be attending Shangri La Dialogue, would the Prime Minister be interacting with them bilaterally?

Question: Just a little confusion, are we saying that Indonesia might join in at some point?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: You are saying that.

Question Contd.: No, I am asking that as I am a little confused.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: That would be for Indonesia to respond not India.

Question Contd.: Is India going to ask, will there be any move in that direction?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I am not aware and as far as any other bilateral meetings on the margins of the Shangri La Dialogue is concerned, the program is still evolving. There is still a week’s time to go before the visit begins and so certainly if it is an important bilateral meeting, you will be informed of it. But it is still evolving and Prime Minister has a very busy schedule in both cities.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you very much. This concludes the special briefing. Thank you Ma’am, thank you Manish and thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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