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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (02 July 2020)

July 03, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:
Friends,
Namaskar and Good evening!
Welcome to this virtual weekly briefing. I have two announcements to start with. First one is an update on the Vande Bharat Mission. The Vande Bharat Mission, as I announced last week, is entering its phase 4 from today onwards. The list of flights under this phase is available on our website and is being updated regularly. As on 1st July 2020, against a total number of 5,83,109 persons who registered the request with our missions abroad for repatriation to India, over 4,75,000 have returned under this mission. This number includes more than 90,000 Indians who have returned through land border immigration checkpoints from Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.

Under phase four of Vande Bharat Mission, we will be operating more than 500 flights. This includes both Air India and private carriers who are ramping up their operations in a big way. My second announcement is of the award by the arbitral tribunal which was constituted on the request of Italy in respect of a dispute concerning the incident involving an Italian tanker "Enrica Lexie" and the Indian fishing vessel ‘‘St. Antony’’. The Arbitral Tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on 26 June 2015 on the request of Italy in respect of a dispute concerning the incident of 15 February 2012 involving Italian tanker "Enrica Lexie” and Indian fishing vessel "St. Antony” has transmitted its award. The main elements of the award are as follows:

• The Tribunal upheld the conduct of the Indian authorities with respect to the incident under the provisions of the UNCLOS. It held that the actions of the Italian military officers and, consequently, Italy breached India’s freedom of navigation under UNCLOS Article 87(1)(a) and 90.
• The Tribunal observed that India and Italy had concurrent jurisdiction over the incident and a valid legal basis to institute criminal proceedings against the Marines. The Tribunal rejected Italy’s claim to compensation for the detention of the Marines. However, it found that the immunities enjoyed by the Marines as State officials operate as an exception to the jurisdiction of the Indian courts and, hence, preclude them to judge the Marines.
• The Tribunal took note of the commitment expressed by Italy to resume its criminal investigation into the events of 15 February 2012.
• The Tribunal decided that India is entitled to payment of compensation in connection with loss of life, physical harm, material damage to property and moral harm suffered by the captain and other crew members of "St. Antony". The Tribunal also held that the Parties are invited to consult with each other with a view to reaching agreement on the amount of compensation due to India. The Tribunal also decided that it shall retain jurisdiction should either Party or both Parties wish to apply for a ruling from the Arbitral Tribunal in respect of the quantification of compensation due to India.

India has taken note of the Award and will be in touch with relevant entities on the matter.

So, this was by way of the two announcements that I was to make. Now, you can move on to your questions. I will request Yatin to read them out.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, the first question is from Shailendra Wangu from News18. He has asked: "are there developments on repatriation of Indian nationals from Pakistan?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official SpokespersonShailendra, I can inform you that 627 Indian nationals who were stranded in Pakistan have returned through ICP Attari and they have returned on three days that is 25th, 26th and 27th of June. There are about 100 people who still remain in Pakistan and we are in touch with Pakistani authorities and we are awaiting clearances to facilitate their return. In fact, I also have a breakup of the number. 204 Indians crossed over on 25th of May, 215 on 26th of May, and 208 on 27th of May.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Devirupa Mitra from Wire, she has asked: "Pakistan's president has approved the election schedule to hold general elections in Gilgit-Baltistan on August 18. Considering India has been objecting to recent legal and legislative developments in Gilgit-Baltistan, does the Indian government have any comment on the declaration of elections?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official SpokespersonDevirupa, our position is very clear on this. We completely reject attempts by Pakistan to bring material changes in the Indian territory of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Such cosmetic exercises are intended to camouflage Pakistan's illegal occupation of Indian territories, and we call upon Pakistan to vacate all Indian territories under their illegal occupation.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Srinjoy from Times Now has asked: "has the Pakistan High Commission reduced its strength by half?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official SpokespersonSrinjoy, following the decision by the Government of India to reduce the staff strength of both the high commissions of India and Pakistan, the members of both high commissions returned on 30th of June 2020. In terms of numbers, 38 officials including family members from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad crossed over via ICP Attari and 143 officials including family members from the Pakistan High Commission crossed over.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, the next set of questions are on the status of talks between India and China and the situation in border areas. I will read them out. Narendra Nath Mishra from Navbharat Times has asked: "kya Cheen ke saath diplomatic varta agle do-teen dino mein dobara hone wali hain?"(Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) "Whether any diplomatic level talks has been planned again with China in next two-three days? Sankar Kumar from India vs Disinformation has asked: "what is the current status of diplomatic and military level talks on the LAC? Is China ready to disengage?" Sandeep Dikshit from The Tribune has asked: "is there another meeting of joint working mechanism on working affairs? What are the issues that it will build on?" Sanjeev Trivedi from News 24 has asked: "foreign ministers talked on 17th June, 3 rounds of commander level talks have taken place, both sides confirm they are working towards peaceful resolution of the dispute, but the standoff at India-China border continues with military buildup increasing with every passing day. Will the MEA like to comment on the apprehension that talks are being used by China to buy time and consolidate its forces on the border?" Sridhar from Asian Age has asked: "last week, MEA said, both China and India still had large deployments on the border. Is the situation moving towards a change now?" Elizabeth from Live Mint has asked: "What is the progress made since the last round of WMCC talks and the military level talks on resolving tensions along with the border? When is the next WMCC meet?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official SpokespersonAs you are aware, India and China have been having discussions through established diplomatic and military channels to address the situation along the LAC in India-China border areas. The Senior Commanders of two sides had met on 6th June, 22nd June and on 30th June. Diplomatic engagements are also continuing in parallel and last week on 24th June a meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was also held.

The Senior Commanders Meeting held on 30th June at Chushul was the third senior military commander level engagement to discuss issues related to disengagement at the faceoff sites along the LAC and de-escalation from the border areas.

Both sides have emphasized the need for an expeditious, phased and step wise de-escalation as a priority. This is in keeping with the Agreement between External Affairs Ministers and his Chinese counterpart during their conversation on 17th June that the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner, and that both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of 6 June sincerely. The discussions in the latest meeting of the Senior Commanders reflected the commitment of both sides to reduce the tensions along the LAC.

The two sides will continue their meetings both at the military and diplomatic level including under the framework of WMCC, in the future to resolve the issues to mutual satisfaction. We expect the Chinese side to sincerely follow up and ensure the expeditious restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas as per bilateral agreements and protocols.

So this is my read out in response to your questions.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, next set of questions on the Government's decision on blocking certain mobile apps and related issues. So, Suhasini from The Hindu has asked: "China has threatened to take India to the WTO over banning of Chinese apps. What is your response?" Shankar Kumar from India vs Disinformation has asked: "What was the total market share of Chinese apps and how much they used to earn per month and per annum from India?" Maha from CNN Network 18 has asked: "China has said that India's decision on banning 59 apps doesn't comply with WTO standards or international e-commerce trends and wants India to review the decision. Has anything been communicated diplomatically to China about India's decision and whether at all it’s final are these companies will be allowed to make representation to the Government?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, on the blocking of these apps,
While I would like to refer you to the concerned Ministry on the specifics of these questions, what I would like to point out is that India has one of the most open regimes in the world for attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In the last few years Government has taken a host of measures for creating of a more investor-friendly regime. Similarly in the area of digital technology and internet, India has adopted a very open regime. India is today one of the world’s largest markets for digital and internet technologies with more than 680 million subscribers. The world’s largest software and internet applications companies are present in India. Naturally while operating in India they have to abide by our rules and regulations issued by the relevant Ministries and Departments, including those pertaining to data security and privacy of individual data. While we will continue to welcome foreign investments in India, including in the area of internet technologies, but this will have to be in accordance with the rules and regulatory framework established by the Government.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, the next set of questions are on the West Bank. Jomy Thomas from Malayalam Manorama has asked: "what's India's position on Israel's move for annexation of occupied areas of West Bank and the way Palestine has responded by asking the support of the world community for statehood?" Anita Joshua from Telegraph has asked: "India's reaction to Israel's plan of annexation of West Bank?" Suhasini from Hindu has asked: "UNSG Guterres, the European Union, UK, Germany, and other countries have publicly called for Israel to stop annexation plans and has India reached out to the Israeli government on this issue? What is Government's position on the annexation?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Our position on this is very clear and we reiterate our view that the final status issues should be resolved through direct negotiations between the two Parties. We urge the Parties to engage with each other and find an acceptable two-State solution for peaceful coexistence.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR):: So, next set of questions on remarks by Pakistani leadership. Ashima Choudhary from Bloomberg has asked: "Pakistan's Imran Khan has blamed India for the Karachi attacks. Will there be a statement from the Government?" Sanjeev Trivedi from News 24 has asked: What does India have to say on the charge by Pakistani Prime Minister that the Karachi terror attacks were instigated by India?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, we had already responded on 29th June on the comments made by the ForeignMinister of Pakistan and we see similar comments from the Pakistan Prime Minister. India rejects these absurd comments and Pakistan cannot shift the blame on India for its domestic problems. We would ask Pakistan to reflect on their own Government's position including their Prime Minister's description of the global terrorist as a martyr.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): So, the next set of questions are on Nepal related issues. Shailendra from News18 has asked: "there are reports that State Government of West Bengal halted the movement of Nepali cargo trucks at the border point. What is your comment to that?" Sidhant from WION has asked: "there were reports that Nepali Border Police stopped embankment work on Lalbakeya river. Are there any further updates to that?" Pushkar Banker from the New Indian Express has asked: "Nepal PM has accused India of trying to topple his Government. Will the MEA react to this?" Narendra Nath Mishra from Navbharat Times has asked: "Nepal mein rajnitik sthirta ko kya Bharat wahan haal mein liye gaye kuch faislon ka parinaam maan raha hai?"(Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) "Is India considering political stability in Nepal as a result of some recent decisions taken there?”Sanjeev Trivedi from News 24 has asked: "Prime Minister KP Oli of Nepal has levelled charges on India trying to topple his Government. Will the MEA comment on the charge? Have we been able to establish any contact at the diplomatic level with Nepal since Nepal parliament passed a map that included Indian territory?" Maha from CNN Network 18 has asked: "Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli has accused India of trying to destabilize his position. How does India react to this allegations?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: In response to all these questions, I will say that India and Nepal have age old civilization ties of friendship, rooted as they are in deep cultural and societal linkages. We remain committed towards continuously strengthening these ties.

On trade front, both sides have worked hard and diligently to ensure smooth flow of trade between the two countries. Even during the times of most stringent Covid-19 lockdown measures in India, the movements of trade in goods and supplies have continued smoothly.

Regarding embankment issue, repair and maintenance of embankments is being carried out regularly by the concerned state governments under the established mechanisms.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, the next set of questions are on talks between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin. Sridhar from Asian Age has asked: "Was the situation on the China border discussed during the call between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin today?" Maha from CNN Network 18 has asked: "is the conversation between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin, was there any reference to China and the situation at LAC?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, you must have seen the readout which we have issued after this telephone conversation. The conversation was essentially for the Prime Minister to congratulate President Putin on the successful celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Second World War and he also congratulated President Putin on the successful completion of the vote on constitutional amendments in Russia. You will recall that Raksha Mantri had visited Russia recently, and our Indian contingent had participated in the military parade there, which was held on 24th of June. This Prime Minister recalled that this is a symbol of the abiding friendship between the peoples of India and Russia. The annual bilateral summit which is to be held in India later this year also came up for discussion, and the Prime Minister conveyed his keenness to welcome President Putin in India for the bilateral summit. So this is what I have by way of information on the telephone conversation.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, the next question is on the H-1B visa issue. Suchithra from News18 Tamil has asked: "is there any new development regarding H-1B visa issue? Any meetings scheduled to discuss with the US counterparts?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official SpokespersonSuchitra, last week I had given a reaction to the proclamation issued by President Trump on 22nd June, which temporarily suspended entry under various categories of non-immigrant visa holders. People-to-people linkages and trade and economic cooperation, especially in technology and innovation sectors is an important dimension of the US-India partnership. That is what I had conveyed. So, it is in this context that we have taken up this issue with the US side and we remain engaged with them.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): So, the next question is also from Suchithra from News18 Tamil. "Can MEA provide data on how many Indians at presently abroad are infected by COVID-19 and how many deaths so far?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official SpokespersonSuchitra, I don't have that information to share. Are there any further questions?

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): No further question, Sir.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. This concludes this briefing.

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