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Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on 2nd India-Australia Virtual Summit (21 March 2022)

March 21, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us today for this Special Media Briefing on the occasion of the 2nd Virtual Summit between India and Australia, which has just concluded. To give us a sense of the discussions and also take up some of your questions, we have the privilege of having with us today Foreign Secretary Sir, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla. We also have with us Joint Secretary looking after Oceania Division in the Ministry of External Affairs, Paramita here. Sir, without much ado, may I hand over the mic to you.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Thank you Arindam. Namaskar and good afternoon. As you are aware, Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi Ji and Prime Minister of Australia, Honourable Scott Morrison headed a virtual summit today. In fact, the summit concluded just a short while ago. We saw that the summit was a very fruitful, constructive and warm exchange of views. The virtual summit reflects the close ties that exist between India and Australia as also the shared vision of both Prime Ministers to advance this bilateral partnership. Both the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed on the high priority they attach to our bilateral relationship and the keen focus to enhance further the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between our two countries. You would recall that the last summit, which was also held virtually between the two leaders, took place in June 2020 and the summit today gave an opportunity for the two leaders to review the bilateral relationship in that intervening period and to also take stock of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Framework; regular high level engagements that have been held between the two countries. The leaders also recalled their previous meetings, including those held on the sidelines of the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC in September last year, and on the sidelines of COP-26 in Glasgow in November last year, where they jointly launched the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) along with UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. As you would recall, that this was a part of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, the CDRI. And both Prime Ministers, along with the UK Prime Minister, were the co-chairs of this IRIS initiative that was launched by them together.

Today's summit was held over an hour and covered the entire range of bilateral issues that were there before us. The wide ranging discussions also covered regional and multilateral issues of interest. Prime Minister Modi indicated that, as two democracies, India and Australia had similar goals and aspirations. Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed India's 2023 G20 Presidency and reiterated Australia's commitment to work closely with us on economic issues of global interest and concern. The agenda of the meeting covered the status of various new initiatives and mechanisms agreed under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The Prime Ministers exchanged views on how COVID-19 had impacted across the globe, and our respective responses and cooperation in critical areas such as health, vaccines, cyber, emerging technologies and supply chains. Incidentally, both Prime Ministers also give a sense of what was done in our own countries. Prime Minister spoke about the fact that 90% of our adult population had been vaccinated. He also spoke about vaccine Maitri and the vaccines that we had distributed to countries in our region and beyond, and also the Quad vaccine partnership. This is an important initiative that involves both Australia and India as members of the Quad. The Australian Prime Minister also informed Prime Minister about their own vaccine initiatives and the successes that they've had in dealing with COVID-19.

In a reiteration of commitment to a progressive Indo Pacific region, both leaders discussed calibrating and cooperating with each other on support to Pacific Island countries for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; in combating climate change through initiatives like the International Solar Alliance, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. The leaders exchanged perspectives about regional and multilateral matters and global issues of mutual interest, including shared concerns such as terrorism. You will, of course, see the joint statement soon. So, some of this information would be contained in the joint statement concluded at the summit. Both leaders referred to the strong bilateral relationship as important not only from a bilateral perspective, but also, as I mentioned, under the Quad format, calling it a factor of stability in the Indo Pacific.

The Australian Prime Minister appreciated the significant presence of a large Indian diaspora in Australia. He stressed on the importance attached by Australia to its relations with India. I think there was a sense that our cooperation had extended to sectors across the board. I think in particular, in terms of investments, in terms of critical minerals, in terms of clean energy, in terms of water, agriculture - these were areas that both sides saw as highly potential, and I think there was a call for facilitating migration and mobility for students and professionals between the two countries. There was a sense between both Prime Ministers that two important areas in our partnership related to people to people contact especially the youth in terms of education, and in terms of tourism exchanges between both our countries. Science and technology was an important area of cooperation. The leaders welcomed the extension of the Australia India Strategic Research Fund. It's an area of collaboration on science, technology and research and both Prime Ministers refer to it as a pillar of our collaboration in these areas.

The Prime Ministers expressed commitment to build on the success of the 2021 India Australia Circular Economy Hackathon. As you're aware, the Hackathon was held last year. And essentially, this involved a discussion of the circular economy - converting waste to wealth and joint initiatives on new and renewable energy. And this is an area where the two Prime Ministers themselves had not only shown interest but also been involved in the concluding session. And a significant outcome of the virtual summit was a decision to hold annual summits at the level of the Heads of Government under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. I think this is one major outcome. And Australia would be the third country with which India will have an institutionalized annual summit.

As part of other outcomes of the virtual summit, both leaders welcomed the signing of the MoU on cooperation in the critical mining sector. This is an MoU between India's Khanij Bidesh India Limited and Australia's Critical Minerals Facilitation Office, and would establish a framework for building partnerships in critical minerals investment. As you can imagine, this is an important area for both our countries and this agreement would give us the opportunities to both invest in Australia's critical mineral sector and get Australian expertise in this area. There was also a letter of intent signed between India and Australia to work towards including a Migration and Mobility Partnership agreement on facilitating migration, mobility between the two countries. I think this is something the two Prime Ministers referred to and said would be an area of great interest because as I said, again, it involves both education and technology and the involvement of younger people between our two countries. It's an important area. And the signing of an MoU between Prasar Bharati and the Special Broadcasting Service of Australia, it would basically allow for exchange programs, expertise in the sector, and would facilitate daily slots on television channels in Australia for Doordarshan India - Doordarshan News and DD Sahyadri.

The two Prime Ministers also agreed that they would be increasing cooperation between India's National Investment and Infrastructure fund, the NIIF and Australia's Pension and Sovereign Fund, which is called the Future Fund. This again is important because of our interest in attracting Australian investments in our infrastructure development. India will offer the same tax benefits for Australia’s sovereign and pension funds in India as is given in Australia. In other words, we are willing to match the tax benefits that Australia gives to its sovereign and pension funds. Once they invest in India they will get similar benefits. Prime Minister also proposed the early integration of digital payments platform of both countries and we have the UPI in India and Australia has a new payment platform. This, as the Prime Minister mentioned, would greatly help the seven lakh Indian community members in Australia. It will also promote, enable the emergence of India as a popular education and tourism destination for Australia.

For Pacific Island countries, under the Infrastructure for Resilient Island states, which I said was a part of the CDRI, both India and Australia will be providing funds. Australia had committed earlier, 10 million Australian dollars and India will match those funds for IRIS. Similarly, India will also match Australia's funding for Pacific Island States under the International Solar Alliance. Australia is investing 10 million Australian dollars; we will invest an equal amount of 50 crore rupees in this particular initiative. As you're aware, Australia has returned 29 artifacts, cultural artifacts to India. These are centuries old artifacts, very valuable artifacts, and Prime Minister welcomed the return and acknowledged this gesture of goodwill and friendship on the part of Australia.

One important area of discussion and cooperation was defense and security and both sides announced the setting up of the General Bipin Rawat Young Defense Officers Exchange Program. This will enable younger officers from both sides to familiarize themselves in each other's countries, and will greatly increase the service to service contacts between our countries. There are a number of sectors covered in agreements and essentially, this speaks of wide ranging nature of our bilateral cooperation with Australia in these sectors. There were several other initiatives with Australia in the sectors of space, science and technology, critical minerals, energy etc. You will see the details in the joint statement that you would have with you.

To conclude, the summit re-established our shared belief with Australia in democracy and the values attached to the rule of law. The depth of discussions held today indicates the high importance India and Australia attached to the bilateral relationship. So I'll stop here.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Thank you for that comprehensive overview. I open the floor for questions.

Speaker 1: Can you tell us something about the discussion between the two leaders on Ukraine and also, was China discussed, as it was during the Japan summit?

Sidhant: Critical minerals has been the focus of this summit. How does it help both the countries? And what are the details in terms of the plans of sourcing minerals from Australia, if you could give us little details.

Yashi: This is Yashi from The New Indian Express. I'd like to know whether any progress was made on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, because the interim has already been talked about.

Nirmala: Hi this is Nirmala. I write for the Straits Times. I just wanted to know about the discussions on Myanmar.

Akhilesh Suman: Sir, Akhilesh Suman from Sansad TV. Has there been any talk with Australian counterpart about making any joint effort to stop the war that is going on between Russia and Ukraine to make a Quad stand on this issue?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Well let me begin by saying that the two leaders exchanged their views on important topical areas relating to our region and beyond. Obviously, the Ukraine issue was discussed as was the issue of China. On Ukraine, I think it was clear that the two sides had referred to the Quad summit in which the leaders had a fairly clear perspective that the situation in Ukraine should not impact on the Indo Pacific and that the focus and priority of the Indo Pacific for the Quad and for our countries should continue to remain as they were. Prime Minister Morrison was quite clear that as far as he was concerned, the Quad’s focus was on the Indo Pacific. And he had made that clear at the Quad and he has continued to emphasize that aspect in our discussions with us. He also I think, expressed understanding for India's position on the issue of Ukraine, which he felt definitely reflected our own situation, our own sort of considerations. As far as the overall aspects of the discussions on Ukraine were concerned, I think there was a sense that, you know, there was concern, serious concern, you can say about the ongoing conflict, and the humanitarian situation in the Ukraine. This is something that both leaders clearly spoke about. And I think, also the need for a cessation of hostilities and violence in that regard. I think there was equal emphasis on the fact that the international order stands on the UN Charter, on the rule of law and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states. That aspect was also an area that both leaders very clearly emphasized. And, of course, the humanitarian aspects of the situation, both in terms of allowing a consideration for civilians, especially women and children, and also humanitarian assistance to Ukraine was something that was clearly spoken about, and you will find that these are areas that are clearly there. But what I'm seeing is that there was a clear sense that both sides understood where they came from. And I think there was a great deal of comfort in the fact that both of us saw the fact that the conflict in Europe should not be a reason for us to divert our attention from the Indo Pacific region, and that our position as far as the Quad is concerned, also was on similar lines.

Well, on China, of course, I think both leaders exchanged their perspectives. Prime Minister did refer to the Line of Actual Control and Ladakh; the incidents of the previous year and he emphasized that peace and tranquillity in the border areas was an essential prerequisite for normalization of relations with China. Prime Minister Morrison also gave a fairly detailed perspective of how he saw China and its actions in the region and he spoke in particular about the South China Sea. Coming to critical minerals, I think there was a sense that there could be joint investments in Australian projects. We have a shared interest in having collaborations in critical minerals. India, as a manufacturing hub, requires access to critical minerals, and Australia is the repository of a lot of the critical minerals in the world, and that our investments together in this area would strengthen the resilience of supply chains when it comes to critical minerals. As you know, India, Japan, Australia also have a working group at the ministerial level on resilient supply chains and critical minerals is an important part of that initiative.

On Myanmar, I think both sides, of course, were concerned about the situation, I think the sense of cessation of violence; a sense of the fact that the civilian population in particular should be protected. There should be a release of those who are arbitrarily detained and that there should be humanitarian access to Myanmar, was emphasized. From our side, of course, we did stress that we have a long border with Myanmar; that our relationship was both historical and based on people to people ties; and we believe that both engagement and humanitarian aspect of our relationship with Myanmar has to be kept in mind. Both sides spoke about supporting the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar, the ASEAN initiatives in Myanmar and I think agreed that, you know, we would look at that effort as an important way of trying to find a solution on the issue, as we have it. And, of course, that the international community must also come together for humanitarian assistance to Myanmar, and that the people of Myanmar should not have to suffer the consequences of the situation.

With regard to CECA, in a certain sense, we have had fairly extensive talks on the issue of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. We launched negotiations, you know, following the 17th Joint Ministerial Commission in September 2021, in Delhi. So it has not been a long time that we have been discussing this issue. But we've had fairly, I think, intense discussions and negotiations. I think both sides believe that there should be a balanced trade agreement for expanded trade and investment flows for the benefit of both our economies. We have made substantial progress in these negotiations. Our respective ministers have been in regular touch to monitor progress on the negotiations. Both sides are keen to finalize this agreement in view of the benefits that we stand to gain from furthering trade and investment. The Prime Ministers, I think, reviewed the situation and it was agreed that we would try and finalize this agreement at the earliest possible opportunity.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
Thank you Sir. We have a time constraint. So I'll just have last couple of questions.

Sir, Meghana from DD News. Sir what have been the talks on the education sector, especially in terms of scholarship programs. Also, wanted to ask, if you can give us some details about the cooperation in the space sector.

Shrinjoy: Sir Australia was once part of Malabar. Then for a long time they were not part of Malabar. Now they are again part of Malabar. Is there commitment that they will continue to be in Malabar?

Nayanima: Sir, Nayanima from The Print. I wanted to understand again on CECA. Yesterday, the Australian High Commissioner said that there will be an early harvest agreement that will be signed by the end of this month. Is India also stating the same thing? Thank you so much. And also Sir, on the procurement of lithium, if you can share something.

Sudhi Ranjan: Sir, Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg. Is there a figure or understanding that you could give on the investments that have been talked about or figure, is there anything of that sort?

Ayan: Sir, this is Ayan from the New Indian. Can we expect for the further talk on RCEP? This is my first question. And secondly, what are the initiatives we may take under this CSP this Comprehensive Strategic Partnership?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: So I think, as far as the education is concerned, and this is something that Meghana has asked, what are the developments in that front? We have a task force between our two countries and this task force has agreed to work towards a mutual recognition of educational qualifications. This, as you can imagine, is very important for us because of the number of students, Indian students who are in Australia. I think that mutual recognition of degrees means that you can do a degree in Austria and that is recognized back in India as well. So, it's an important step forward that we are looking at this. Australia has also announced a Maitri scholarship and fellowship scheme that will be, I think helpful, in particular the Australian Prime Minister mentioned about (inaudible) students from India and this is an important area, from our point of view. There is active collaboration in the space sector between India and Australia. This as you know, ISRO is working with the Australian space agency and I think this relates to certain technologies that both sides need. And it's, again, an emerging area of cooperation. We're looking at new areas in the fields of science and technology, research, etc. and this, I think, is an important aspect of that regard.

Now, I think Shrinjoy had the question on Malabar. As you know, Australia has been inducted into the Malabar framework. They have participated in Malabar exercises in 2020 and 2021. And they will continue to be part of the Malabar, let's say, group of countries that participate in these exercises and I think we will certainly look forward to continued participation of all concerned.

As far as investments are concerned, I think Nayanima’s question was on investments. It's around US $15 billion, I mean, Australian investments in India, and Indian investments in Australia are about US $12 billion. And both investments are growing steadily. Both countries are trying to facilitate these investments. The Australians have announced a certain scheme by which they will encourage their technology companies to come and invest in India; come and implant themselves in India. And I think this all augurs well, for the future of knowledge partnership between our two countries. And across sectors, you can look at, you know, the financial area, real estate - these are areas where we're looking at investments. But I did mention, specifically Australian investments in our National Infrastructure Investment Fund, the NIIF, which is an area where we hope to draw both pension and sovereign funds, mutual funds, and this is an area where I think there's potential for significant investments in our infrastructure development. And this is again announcement of the summit. So this is a deliverable from the summit.

Lithium, as I told you, I think Australia is one of the largest producers of critical minerals, including lithium. The MoU that facilitates co-investments in the critical mineral sector would greatly, I think, benefit, access to these critical minerals and as part of our supply chain initiatives also.

As far as RCEP is concerned, let me say that this was not a part of the discussions. We have clearly said that we are unable to be a part of RCEP, for reasons that have been clearly outlined. And I think this is no longer on the agenda.

On the early harvest aspect of CECA, we agreed that both sides would try and work to conclude this at the earliest possible. We hope to sort out the remaining issues and come up with something that would be seen as an outcome on this area. Just to conclude what we are saying about space - tracking and telemetry command center in the Cocos Island is an important aspect of our space cooperation because it helps the Gaganyaan mission. As you know, this is a very important mission in our space area and this is an area that we're working on. And as I said, ISRO and the Australian Space Agency are cooperating closely on a number of issues.

Sir, in the wake of this summit between Australia and India, there has been one person who has actually praised India for going out and that is Prime Minister Imran Khan. Would you like to say on that?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary:
I mean, to say that one person would be wrong. I think we have received praise across the board for many of our foreign policy initiatives at the level of the Prime Minister and I think our record speaks for itself.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, Sir, for your presence here. Thank you also to Paramita Tripathi, Joint Secretary (Oceania).

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