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Special Briefing on President’s visit to Turkmenistan and Netherlands (March 30, 2022)

March 30, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. We are back again for another special media briefing, this time on the forthcoming state visits of Rashtrapati Ji to Turkmenistan, and to the Netherlands. To give us a sense of what awaits us on this visit and what are the contours of this visit as well as likely outcomes, we have with us Secretary (West), Shri Sanjay Verma in the Ministry of External Affairs; also joining us is Joint Secretary in the Eurasia division, Shri Bandaru Wilsonbabu. Sir I hand over the floor to you.

Shri Sanjay Verma, Secretary (West): Thank you Arindam. A very good afternoon, Namaskar. Welcome to this briefing on Rashtrapati Ji’s state visit to Turkmenistan and the Netherlands, which begins on 1st April, return is on 7th April. In the delegation will be the Honourable Minister of State for fisheries, animal husbandry, and information and broadcasting, Mr. L Murugan and Member of Parliament, Mr. Dilip Ghosh. Allow me to begin with some remarks on the first part of the visit, which is Turkmenistan, from 1st to 4th April. This will be the first ever visit by a President of India to Turkmenistan. It's been 30 years since Turkmenistan was established. We're also marking 30 years, or three decades of diplomatic relations between our two countries. And also importantly, this visit is within two weeks of the inauguration of new President of Turkmenistan who was inaugurated I think, on the 19th of March. So this would be the first biggest incoming visit for the newly appointed President of Turkmenistan.

The main elements of the visit will be tete-a-tete with the President Serdar Berdimuhamedow followed by bilateral delegation level talks, the ceremonial guard of honour, signing of several MOUs, separate media statement, meeting with ITEC and ICCR Alumni, address to the Institute of International Relations in Ashgabat and some Indian cultural programs presented incidentally by Turkmeni artists in a cultural evening. You would be aware that India and Turkmenistan have civilizational and historical linkages which encompass Buddhist relics sites. Or if you look at Delhi, the Turkman gate near Ajmeri Gate reflects that relationship. The Turkman gate was built to honour a 13th century Sufi Turkmeni poet. So that is a standing example of our relations with Turkmenistan. In the modern era, we've had three presidential visits from Turkmenistan. Our Prime Minister Modi ji also visited the Central Asian countries including Turkmenistan in 2015. But as I said earlier, this is the first visit of our President to Turkmenistan. In recent months, you will recollect the energy which has infused the India Central Asia partnership in which Turkmenistan plays an important role. We had remote summit in January this year, and there are several verticals which have been established from that summit and we see Turkmenistan being an important part of those engagements.

Bilateral trade is modest. The figure, it's just 97 million in the first nine months of this financial year, of which over 90 million are Indian exports. There are several reasons why this is a very limiting figure. It is either geography or small market size, but I'm happy to share that India was and we hope will regain its place of pride as a favoured destination for Turkmenis for medical tourism. Before the COVID crisis hit us there were almost 25 to 30 Turkmeni patients landing in India every day. That is about more than 10,000 a year. And as things resume, we will, I'm sure, reclaim that aspect of our bilateral relationship. As you're aware, Turkmenistan possesses very large reserves of natural gas. By various accounts they are either fourth or fifth in the world. And they are also strategically placed in Central Asia and connectivity is something on which we feel partnership with Turkmenistan will pay dividends. We have offered a line of credit worth $1 billion to Central Asian countries, including Turkmenistan. The other areas where we have worked in terms of development partnership with Turkmenistan is MOU on implementation of high impact community development projects. Then there are grant projects like the India-Turkmenistan Information Technology Center in the capital as well as the Turkman-India Industrial Training Center in Ashgabat. We have also been offering Turkmenistan about 50 ITEC slots or ICCR scholarships every year. We also have a Hindi chair in one of their Institutes which is called the Azadi Institute of World Languages in Ashgabat.

Popular Indian culture has found a tremendous appeal in Turkmenistan - Bollywood films songs etc. And that is why the earlier reference to a cultural program presented by Turkmeni artists with an Indian theme. We have one cultural agreement and during this visit, we will be signing a program of cooperation for the year 2022 to 2025. We also have a Yoga trainer and Ayurvedic expert stationed, courtesy ICCR and Ayush Ministry, in Ashgabat, and this is ‘one of its kind’ centers in that part of the world.

The Indian community there is very small, less than 100. In the multilateral fora, India and Turkmenistan have had a very good and close working relationships going back to the NAM period and thereafter they have been our supporter for the permanent membership of the UNSC and they also supported us for our current term in the UNSC. Now, let me come to the outcomes of this visit - we will have a joint statement and we will also have MOUs on disaster management, financial intelligence, program of cooperation and culture and Youth Affairs; joint postal stamp to commemorate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. So in conclusion, what I would say is that the state visit of Honourable Rashtrapati ji will reaffirm the importance that we attach to Turkmenistan not only bilaterally but also in terms of our extended neighbourhood concept and role in the India-Central Asia partnership. That concludes my brief remarks on Turkmenistan and may I now move to the Netherlands.

The visit to Netherlands is from the 4th to the 7th of April, taking place at the invitation of His Majesty King William Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Maxima. This will be the first high level visit from India after the royal couple visited India in October 2019. The last Presidential visit from India to the Netherlands was 34 years ago. It was President Venkataraman in 1988. Prime Minister Modi visited Netherlands in 2017. And this visit is also taking place as we mark 75 years of diplomatic relations between India and the Netherlands. Highlights of this visit - as guest of Honour, President will attend the state banquet hosted by the Majesties. The Prime Minister of Netherlands, Mark Rutte will call on the President and will also host a lunch in President’s honour. Rashtrapati Ji will also meet the President of the Senate of Netherlands, Mr. Jan Anthonie Bruijn and the President the House of Representatives Miss Vera Bergkamp. Rashtrapati Ji will also address the Indian community including Indian professional students and the Surinami Hindustani community members in Netherlands. The Netherlands hosts the largest Indian diaspora on mainland European continent - 2.6 lakhs of which 200,000 or 2 lakhs are Indians of Surinami extract and the rest are Indian professionals, students, etc. There are about 3500 Indian students in the Netherlands.

As part of our 75th Independence or AKAM celebrations, very interestingly Rashtrapati Ji will be hosting a cultural performance in The Netherlands to be graced by the King and the Queen of the Netherlands and this will be a performance by Kalakshetra foundation, a 35-member troupe, which will perform a piece on the Ramayana. And as I mentioned earlier, this would be part of our AKAM celebrations and will be one of the bigger or high profile such celebration anywhere in the world.

In terms of bilateral relations, this visit of Rashtrapati Ji will be a follow up to the India Netherlands virtual Summit held in April 2021. At the Virtual Summit, you may recollect the two sides agreed to launch a strategic partnership on water, setting up a bilateral fast track mechanism for investment facilitation and also established 25 centers of excellence in agri related sectors by 2025. This visit of Rashtrapati Ji will strengthen this partnership and provide further impetus to these verticals. On our strategic partnership on water, just yesterday i.e. 29th March, in the run up to the visit, Jal Shakti Minister Shri Gajendra Singh and his counterpart in Netherlands had a meeting and signed the joint statement on Strategic Water Partnership. This would serve as a roadmap for further development of cooperation in this sector.

On the economic and commercial front, Netherlands is the fifth largest investor in India after Mauritius and Singapore for the financial year 2021 with FDI inflow of about $2.8 billion, but for the period - 2000 to 2021, Dutch investments in India stands almost at $38 billion, making it the fourth biggest FDI investor in India. There are over 200 Dutch companies present in India and likewise, there are about 300 Indian companies in the Netherlands, this also includes start-ups. May I also mention here that the Netherlands is the third European country after Germany and France to come up with the policy guidelines on the Indo Pacific and they've also significantly influenced the EU’s Indo Pacific strategy which was announced in September last year. We also have strong sectoral cooperation in agriculture, health, science and technology. There is a triangular development partnership that we look at with Netherlands - WAH that is water, agricultural and the health agenda. And we believe this will be further strengthened during the forthcoming visit. The Netherlands considers India an economic superpower. And so a very strong stream in this visit will be economic and commercial relations. There will be MOUs signed on ports, on state archives, cultural exchanges, as well as the science and technology program of cooperation. I conclude my remarks here. I will be happy to take questions.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, Sir. We will have first round of questions. We take them together.

Yashi: Hi, this is Yashi from The New Indian Express. I have two questions. One is, will the upcoming visit to Turkmenistan result in the revival of talks on TAPI - the Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India gas pipeline? And second is, you've said that officials from animal husbandry and fisheries are accompanying, did you say that?

Shri Sanjay Verma, Secretary (West): The Minister of State will be accompanying. Traditionally there is always a Minister of state as well as a member of parliament.

Sidhant: Hi Sir, this is Sidhant from WION. The visit is happening at a time when the geopolitical context is there -The Ukraine crisis and Afghanistan in Asia. You are going to Turkmenistan and Netherlands Sir. Will the Ukraine crisis be the part of the conversation in the visit to Netherlands and will the Afghan crisis be part of the conversation with the leadership in Turkmenistan?

Shri Sanjay Verma, Secretary (West): Yashi your question is on the TAPI pipeline revival - I won’t say revive, because the talks are ongoing. India has some concerns. Well, let's establish the basics that we do acknowledge that Turkmenistan is a very rich reservoir of natural gas and this conversation on TAPI began in the last few years of the 20th century. It is a difficult neighbourhood, if you look at the geography. So in that sense, that itself was a task of negotiating the pipeline through those territories. But thereafter, it is on record that India has some concerns about the commercial or the business aspect of the TAPI pipeline, and that is being discussed. GAIL is a stakeholder. So, let me simply put it that we have some concerns on the business principles, on the commercial side, apart from the logistical challenges which are very apparent. So this is as thing stands, but Rashtrapati Ji’s forthcoming visit will be another opportunity at the highest levels to revisit where we stand on this issue. Thank you.

Okay, Sidhant, your question was on the possibility of Ukraine coming up during the Netherlands part of the visit and Afghanistan in the first part of the trip. Let me begin with Afghanistan. In the India Central Asia Summit, there is a broader regional consensus on Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is a neighbour of Turkmenistan, and they are known to have good relations. So in terms of our overall approach to Afghanistan, both from the Indian perspective or in the perspective of Central Asia - India relations and in terms of this regional consensus, we have spoken about in the past for an Afghanistan which includes the formation of a truly representative and inclusive government, combating terrorism, drug trafficking, central role for the UN, providing immediate humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan and preserving the rights of women, children, minorities. And as decided by the leaders of the India-Central Asia Summit, we will soon be forming JWG on Afghanistan. So Afghanistan will surely come up in this conversation, and this is where we stand on that issue.

On Ukraine, well, it will not be surprising if it is raised, naturally. Our position on Ukraine is clear and there is understanding in our friends in Europe. Our position, as nuanced as it may seem to many, it is a distinct position and it has been spelled out over the last four weeks repeatedly and the Rashtrapati Ji himself will convey this to the Netherlands side. But we see increasing and broader acceptance of our position. And in Netherlands we will have a first-hand experience to share that with Netherlands. It's a country which is an important bilateral economic commercial partner. Relations with the EU also derive a lot of advantage from this positive bilateral relationship and as mentioned earlier on the Indo Pacific we see Netherlands as a leading country in shaping the EU perspective on this emerging region, which is of a central focus for Indian foreign policy. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Thank you for taking these questions and briefing us on this. I would also like to thank the presence of Shri Bandaru Wilsonbabu from the Eurasia division. Thanks to all for joining for this special briefing. We'll keep you updated as the visit progresses. Thank you.


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