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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) during PM's visit to Thailand (November 04, 2019)

November 05, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar, good evening and a very warm welcome to this special briefing on Prime Minister's engagement today. I apologize for the slight delay which we had. The day was a mix of bilateral and also multilateral meetings for the Prime Minister and to brief you on Prime Minister's engagement today, I have with me Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh. I also have the Addnl. Secretary Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Shri Sudhanshu Pandey and Jt. Secretary (Indo-Pacific) Shri Vikram Doraiswamy. We will begin with initial remarks by Secretary (East) and then we will take some questions from you all.

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh:
Good evening. Today's the third and the last day of Prime Ministers visit. His engagements today included bilateral meetings with the Prime Ministers of Japan, Vietnam and Australia. He also participated in the 14th East Asia Summit as well as the third RCEP Summit and participated at a special lunch hosted by Thailand. At the launch event the leaders had exchanged their views on global sustainable development agenda. In this context a statement on Partnership for Sustainability was adopted by the leaders at the 14th East Asia Summit. This is the sixth time that Prime Minister is participating in the East Asia Summit and at this summit which is the 14th, the leaders reviewed the future direction of EAS and also exchanged views on regional and international issues such as Indo-Pacific, terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crimes. They also discussed South China Sea, the situation in the Korean Peninsula as well as in the Rakhine State in Myanmar.

Prime Minister underlined the priority India attaches to firm and unambiguous action against terrorism which is the most heinous trans-border crime as also action against those who abet, shelter and support terrorist groups.

EAS leaders emphasized the imperative of acting against terrorist groups, violent extremism and also the use of internet for radicalism and terrorism. Apart from articulating India's position on these issues, which I mentioned above, India welcomed ASEAN’s outlook on Indo-Pacific, reaffirmed ASEAN centrality in the region and highlighted convergence with our own Indo-Pacific vision.

In this light Prime Minister proposed an Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative to conserve and sustainably use the maritime domain and to make meaningful efforts to create a safe, secure and stable maritime domain. Focus areas of this initiative include creating partnerships among interested States in several pillars ranging from enhancing maritime security to preserving and sustainably using marine resources, building capacity, disaster prevention and management as well as working together in trade and maritime transport.

Thailand as the current chair of ASEAN thanked Prime Minister for this initiative and looked forward to discussing this further. And Australia has already indicated its interest in working with India to develop this initiative. Prime Minister also announced some other initiatives at the East Asia Summit. These included an EAS seminar on maritime security and cooperation which is scheduled in 2020 in Chennai.

In the East Asia Summit the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the further strengthening of the EAS and three statements were adopted by the leaders. One on partnership for sustainability which I mentioned earlier, combating the spread of illicit drugs and cooperation to combat national crimes. These were adopted and to combat the spread of illicit drugs, so these were the three statements which were adopted by the leaders. Then Prime Minister, I will go through the bilateral meetings, Prime Minister's bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan, in that the two leaders reviewed the progress on Mumbai Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project and welcome to the inaugural 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue which will focus on bilateral security and defense cooperation. The two leaders also agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation including in third countries for peace, progress and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Our prime minister looked forward to Prime Minister Abe’s visit to India for the India Japan Annual Summit in December 2019.

The second bilateral which Prime Minister had was with the prime minister of Vietnam who will now take over the chair of ASEAN and so he said that we would fully support Vietnam as it is the chair of ASEAN next year in its work. The two leaders then reaffirmed the commitment and the importance that they attach to the comprehensive strategic partnership. They reviewed the progress which is being made in the bilateral relationship in defense and security. They looked at the economic partnership and working together in various fields including in the oil and gas sector.

They welcomed to the commencement of direct flights between the two countries. You have flight now between Calcutta and Ho Chi Minh City and Vietjet will also be starting a flight from Hanoi to Delhi. So in all to all both the leaders spoke about the importance that this relationship has in the Indo-Pacific region. Prime Minister of Vietnam invited Prime Minister Modi to visit Vietnam. And this is a part of the high-level exchanges that we have between the two countries.

The third bilateral Prime Minister had was the Prime Minister of Australia and they also reviewed the entire bilateral relationship and they affirmed that they would work towards building on the strategic partnership that we have and all its areas in particular areas which were mentioned were maritime cooperation, business and investment, defense and security, Science and Technology. So a range of four areas in which the two countries will be working together. Prime Minister Scott Morrison accepted the invitation of Prime Minister to visit India and he would, during his visit, be the keynote speaker at the Raisina Dialogue in January 2020. Prime Minister's last engagement was his participation in the third RCEP Summit. India conveyed its decision at the summit not to join the RCEP agreement. This reflects both assessment of the current global situation as well as of the fairness and balance of the agreement. India had significant issues of core interest that remained unresolved. In his remarks on the subject Prime Minister highlighted that he was guided by the impact it would have on the lives and livelihoods of all Indians especially vulnerable sections of society. He spoke of Mahatma Gandhiji's advice on recalling the face of the weakest and the poorest and then ask if the steps are of any use to them.

India has participated in good faith in the RCEP discussions and has negotiated hard with a clear-eyed view of our interests. In the given circumstances we believe that not joining the agreement is the right decision for India. We would continue to persevere in strengthening our trade, investment and people-to-people relations with this region. Prime minister would be returning to New Delhi later this evening. Thank you. Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Ma'am thank you very much. The three press releases on Prime Ministers bilaterals are all uploaded on the website.

Question: On the RCEP, you said that Prime Minister clearly conveyed our decision not to join RCEP. Does that mean that we are not going to be joining RCEP at all or is it a holding operation that we have some issues which are not satisfactorily addressed, that before this we heard that negotiations went down the wire. And also the question related to that is what impact will it have given the centrality or the increasing profile of Act East and Indo-Pacific in our foreign policy, what kind of message it sends to the region?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I'll take all the questions on RCEP if that is okay.

Question: I'm from Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun. Regarding RCEP, what is the reason that the government of India has decided not to join RCEP, what is the reason and one more question, Vice Minister of foreign affairs of China already said today that Regional Economic Partnership has made breakthrough progress, market access negotiations have been completed but this is 15 parties and India will continue so next year the 15 parties decided to sign this agreement but some ASEAN countries and Japan also you know expect India to be part of RCEP and because as a counterpart of China also, so how do you see this present situation? This is my second question.

Question: You said there are some core issues which cannot be compromised, so could you clarify what those core issues are?

Question: I just wanted to know whether India has been assured by the remaining 15 RCEP countries that in fact the unresolved issues may be actually looked into in the future.

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh:
Let me make it clear that we have conveyed our decision not to join the RCEP to the participating countries. The reasons for not joining are the participating countries aware of it and I can say that we have had a very clear and a principled position for a fair and balanced outcome of the RCEP but when we did not see that and we found that, and it is very clear in my remarks why we have taken the decision. We took the right decision in national interest.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I hope that answers all the questions. Any other aspect of Prime Minister's engagement today?

Question: Does India feel, in subsequent years as trade and commerce grows, it will feel left out of the main, a very major block of free trade agreement or India's prepared to again start negotiations perhaps when the issues that concern us are reasonably resolved by RCEP?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I'll just take one more round of supplementary and then we will move on.

RCEP negotiations were also largely about you know India-China. We had a summit between our two leaders in Mahabalipuram some time back and they said they will strive for a positive conclusion to RCEP. Sudhanshu Ji if you can also shed light that what were the issues, negotiation going down the wire and having such a big decision not to go ahead, what does it add up to what were the issues, core issues, on which we said, will not compromise?

Question: Similar question. So will you stop negotiating with China for trading issues?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh:
Let me put it this way that this RCEP negotiations was among 16 participating countries and we have conveyed to the other participating countries that we would not be joining the RCEP. So that is where the issue is and the reason why we were not to be joined in the RCEP I have clearly articulated in my statement and if you wish I can repeat the statement but I think you have it that those are the reasons why we did not join the RCEP.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
Thank you. Can we move on to some other topic of the visit?Question: So you mean you will never join the RCEP, it doesn’t mean next year or you will never join it?Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: I have already conveyed that we have conveyed to the participating countries that India will not be joining the RCEP.

Question Contd.: Ever?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: I think I can only say what has been discussed and what has been conveyed to the participating partners and we have told them that India is not joining the RCEP.Question: Australian Prime Minister, just few minutes back, he said that in fact the door for India joining to RCEP will always remain open, so?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I think this question should be addressed to him you know, I mean Secretary (East) has already made it very clear our position and I think she has answered all the questions. If there are other questions on any other aspect of the visit we will take them.

Question: On the East Asia Summit, from our point of view what is the big takeaway, I mean, is it becoming a standard annual diplomatic exercise but is there something significant which you would like to reemphasize or underline?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: Of course it is an annual summit, it is a leaders led summit and I would flag to you the oceans and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative which was announced by the Prime Minister.Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you very much. This concludes the special briefing from Bangkok. Ma'am thank you very much, Sir, Vikram, thank you all for joining.


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