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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (August 25, 2022)

August 25, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this week's media briefing. I don't have an immediate announcement, so let me move on to the questions that you have.

Sidhant: Sir Sidhant from WION. My question is on the Agniveer Scheme, when it comes to recruitment in Nepal, the recruitment process was to start today and Nepali media has reported the matter was raised by the Foreign Minister with the Indian envoy. Any reaction? What’s India’s view?

Yeshi: Sheikh Hasina is expected to come to India on the 5th of September. Is there something in particular on her agenda? They say that security is one of her concerns. Would you like to comment on that?

Suhasini: If I could add to that, this week marks five years since the last big attacks on Rohingya refugees that saw some of them come to India. I wanted to ask, in the wake of the comments that have been made by the government, first by the Minister of Urban Development, who said that Rohingya refugees will be put into EWS accommodation, followed by the Home Ministry, saying India will continue to try and deport them. And that there is no plan to move them out of their shanty homes. I wanted to get a sense of what is India's policy when it comes to Rohingya, if you could just restate that. And the second would be, is this an issue that is likely to be discussed when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina comes to India and in particular, is India going to seek Bangladesh’s help in taking some of the Rohingya refugees from here to Bangladesh?

Shrinjoy: Sir, this relates to the suicide bomber Azamov. Has Russia been in touch with India, particularly the Indian mission in Moscow or here and given the Indian side further details about what he was planning to do when he was here, because the interrogations were going on for a while?

Madhurendra: Sir Madhurendra News Nation se, mera sawal Taiwan aur cheen ko lekar hai. Basically jis tarah se cheen ka dabav, military dabav Taiwan par lagatar dikhai de raha hai ussse uss samooche kshetra men ashanti ka mahaul hai aur zahir hai iska prabhav Bharat par bhi dikhai de raha hai. kya Bharat is massle par khulkar apna koi stand rakh raha hai ya humlog abhi bhi chupchap hi bane rahenge? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Sir Madhurendra from News Nation, my question is about Taiwan and China. Basically China’s constant military pressure on Taiwan is being clearly seen because of which there is an atmosphere of unrest in the region and of course its effect is also visible on India. Is India openly conveying its stand on this issue or will we still remain silent?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay. Let me try to answer some of these queries. Let me start with Sidhant, your question on the Agnipath Scheme. Look, I would like to say that we have been recruiting Gurkha soldiers to the Indian army for a long time and we look forward to continuing to recruit Gurkha soldiers to the Indian army under the Agnipath Scheme. That's the update I have for the moment. If you have something more, I'll come back to you on that.

On Yeshi’s as well as Suhasini’s comments on proposed visit, you seemed to have announced a visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister. I don't have anything to say for the moment on that. As you know, high level visits are announced at the right time. I don't have any update on that. On what we will discuss in such a hypothetical visit, we will let you know also at that time. I think, you mentioned Suhasini about the issue of the Rohingya, but I don't know, again on the part of the contact or connection to the visit of Sheikh Hasina, we will take it as it comes. But in terms of, on the larger issue the Rohingya thing, let me just make a simple comment. I think the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a detailed press release on this. Frankly, at this point of time, we have nothing further to add to that.

Srinjoy, on the issue of Azamov, this would be or suspected suicide bomber on that. Look, we are aware of the case, obviously. We are in touch with the Russian authorities in the matter, but given the security implications, you would appreciate we are not in a position to share further details in the matter at this moment.

Madhurendra ji, Taiwan vaale issue pe hamne pichle hafte, pichle baar jab hamara hua tha press conference, hamne kaha tha ki hamara kya rukh hai ya ravaiyya hai us par, main usko phir se dohara sakta hoon uske aage mere pass nahi hai kuchh. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Madhurendra ji, on the Taiwan issue, we had a press conference last time in which we had conveyed our position on that, I can repeat it again, but I have nothing beyond that.

Madhurendra: Kya usme koi badlav hai (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Is there any change in that?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Nahi usmein koi badlav nahi hai, agar aap chahte hai to main usko fir se padh sakta hoon par nahi usmein hamne kah rakha tha ki usamen hamara kya najariya hai jaise hamne us samay bhi kaha tha. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) No, there is no change in it, if you want, I can read it again, in that we had conveyed our position.

Like many other countries, India too is concerned at recent developments and we urge the exercise of restraint, avoidance of unilateral actions to change status quo, de-escalation of tensions and efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region. India's relevant policies are well known and consistent. They do not require reiteration.

Iska hindi anuvad bhi hamare website par hai (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Its Hindi translation is there on our website.

Saurabh: Sir, Saurabh from ANI. Sir we have observed some incident jeopardizing safety of Indians in Sri Lanka. Sir have we raised it with the local authorities?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Tourists?

Saurabh: Locals.

Sudhi Ranjan: Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg Sir. The US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury is in India. If you could give us an update on the kind of discussions that the two sides have had.

Kavita: Sir Kavita hoon Hari Bhoomi se. Sir mera sawal yeh hai ki abhi kuchh din pahle Pakistan ke Pradhanamantri ne ye kaha hai ki hum Bharat ke saath shantipurn sambandh banana chahte hai, to usako lekar MEA ka kya reaction hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Sir I am Kavita from Hari Bhoomi. Sir, my question is that just a few days ago, the Prime Minister of Pakistan has said that they want to have peaceful relationship with India, so what is the reaction of the MEA on it?

Ileana: Ileana, TASS News Agency. In continuation of the topic of this arrest of terrorist in Russia, who planned attack in India, how do you assess the relations with Russia in anti-terror sphere, my first question. And second one, I asked you last time, have India decided who will go to participate from Indian side in this Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok which starts on the 5th of September and will continue for three days, at least. What delegation will be there and who will lead this delegation? Thank you.

Neeraj: Sir Neeraj hoon News 18 India se, pradhanmantri Japan jayenge, Japan ke poorv pradhanmantri Shinzo Abe ke yaad mein jo karyakram hai shok sabha ka ayojan kiya ja raha hai, usamen pahuchenge Pradhanmantri? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Sir I am Neeraj from News 18 India. The Prime Minister will go to Japan to attend the program being organized in memory of former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe?

Speaker 1: Sir India - Japan 2+2 dialogue is awaited, any details on it when it could happen?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me start with, I think, Saurabh you talked about Indians in Sri Lanka, particularly tourists. Look on that one we have been following this for some time, these developments there, but let me mention that our understanding is that Indians are still the largest source of tourists for Sri Lanka. As regards travel of Indians to Sri Lanka in the current situation, let me emphasize that safety and well-being of Indian nationals during their stay outside India and including in Sri Lanka in this particular case is always of prime importance. Our endeavour is to prevent any untoward incidents involving Indians outside India. We would therefore encourage Indians to exercise all care and caution while in Sri Lanka. They should examine all relevant factors, including currency convertibility and the fuel situation before undertaking any essential travel to Sri Lanka. That's for the moment that's what I had. Look, our High Commission of course, is in touch with all local authorities. But this was a general guidance to people who are there, tourists who are there, or who are thinking of going, that would be our guidance.

Speaker 2: (Inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: No, I think this was just a guidance. Recently, I don't think anybody has been attacked or so, I mean, our High Commission would have details of that. I don't have an immediate number, but this was a comment more in terms of, we've got some queries of Indian tourists, how they should look at going or not going, etc. so we would urge that for those factors.

On the issue of the US Deputy Secretary of State, I think that's what Sudhi, you mentioned. Look, this is an ongoing visit. I think Mr. Wally Adeyemo, US Deputy Secretary of State for Treasury, he's visiting from August 24th to 26th. I think the meetings are going on. He has had meetings, I think in Mumbai and I think he has just come to Delhi or will be coming to Delhi. Till now of course his plans include a wide ranging discussions on various issues, but look, this is still on. So let me not comment on that. From our perspective I think we see the visit covering issues like terror financing, climate finance, coordination in the IMF on various issues, things like that, you know, those are the issues that we expect to be covered. Let's see how the conversations go.

Ileana to your question on the Azamov, I answered Shrinjoy on what our perspective is and we are in touch. Look, on the anti-terror part of it, you heard our Defence Minister commenting on that, I think, while he was in Tashkent and thanking Russia for the support on this particular case. So this is part of that. I think we have close cooperation on that, but I don't have any updates to share on that particular case. On the Eastern Economic Forum, you had asked last week, an official level participation will be there. I will share with you the details, it is not from the Ministry directly, so I will share with you the details separately or the names.

Kavita ji aapne puchha tha ki Pakistan ke pradhanamantri. Dekhiye, ismen koi nai toh baat hai nahi, ham pahle bhi kah chuke hai ki usamen ek atmosphere hona chahiye free of terror jisamen hum batchit kar payen. Baki hum bhi chahte hai relation neighbours ke saath achchha rahe par Pakistan ke saath aap jaante hai kya dikkate hai aur unke taraf se kya steps unko lena padega ya lena chahiye. Toh mere pass aisa koi specific update aur nahi hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Kavita ji, you asked about Prime Minister of Pakistan. Look, there is nothing new in this, we have already said that there should be an atmosphere free of terror in which talks could be held. We also want good relationship with the neighbours, but with Pakistan you know what are the problems and what steps they will have to take or should take. So I don't have any further specific update.

Neeraj aapne Shinzo Abe ji, Dekhiye ye unake funeral ki baat hai, abhi tak mere pass aise koi announcement nahi hai. Bataya gaya hai ki 27 tarikh ko inaka state funeral hoga, pradhanmantri ke jaane ya na jaane vala ye decision ya announcement apne sahi vakt par hota hai, mere pass koi update nahi is bare mein. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Neeraj, about Shinzo Abe ji, look, this is a matter of his funeral, so far I do not have any announcement in this regard. His state funeral will be on the 27th, the decision or announcement of the Prime Minister going or not will be done at the right time, I do not have any update about it.

Somebody asked India-Japan 2+2. Look, India-Japan 2+2 is an important mechanism of the ministerial level that I think was started in November 2019, if I remember correctly and that was held in India. This is a mechanism that helps us to coordinate both on the defence as well as of course on the Foreign Ministry side. You know, this is now Japan's turn to host it. It will give us an opportunity to review the status of defence and security cooperation, also deliberate ways on further strengthening this cooperation part of our Special Strategic and Global Partnership. As I said, Japan has offered to host the next meeting, but due to COVID and other factors, the meeting could not be held as yet. We will share with you details as soon as they are finalized.

Devirupa: This is Devirupa from The Wire. I just had a question - two weeks since the author Salman Rushdie was stabbed in United States. Is there any statement of condemnation from the Indian government, especially since he a person of Indian origin and we do take up issues of attacks against PIOs.

Gautam Lahiri: Myself Gautam Lahiri. My question is that after 12 years, India and Bangladesh Joint River Commission is meeting here in Delhi and meeting has just concluded. MEA is also participating in the meeting. Do you have any feedback on that meeting and any read out about the meeting or the agendas, if you can elaborate on that. Thank you.

Speaker 3: My question was also related to river issue sir. So does it include only Teesta or it includes all the 54 rivers between the two countries.

Kallol: Kallol from the Hindu. In the JRC meeting, is there a possibility that the Kushiyara river would be taken up for a deal. And is there a proposal also for taking up the Ganga Water Treaty to be renewed this time?

Abhishek Jha: Sir, I’m Abhishek Jha from News 18. My question is regarding a Sikh girl being kidnapped and possibly converted and then married in the Pakistan. The media report has been like that. So, any reaction from India side.

Sandhya: Sir, Sandhya with ET. A quick one on CEPA, would that be on table from the Indian side, can you confirm?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: For what?

Sandhya: With Bangladesh.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: The visit that hasn't been announced?

Sandhya: Yes.

Speaker 4: At a press conference in Beijing today, the PLA spokesperson has said that China firmly opposes any third party meddling in the China-India border issue in a reference to upcoming India-US joint exercises, Yudh Abhyas. He went on to say that in light of the relevant agreement signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996, neither side is allowed to conduct military exercises against the other, in areas near the Line of Actual Control. Your response to that.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: That’s a very broad based question. I think Devirupa you asked on Salman Rushdie, I think External Affairs Minister had a chance to comment on it, but let me just, look, India has always stood against violence and extremism. We condemn this horrific attack on Salman Rushdie and we wish him speedy recovery.

On the rivers commission meeting, I see a number of questions. Actually the problem with that is that the meetings are actually to be honest, still going on that. I think a lot of you have asked on that, we have this meeting going on. I think the Secretary level meeting took place I think earlier this week, and today is actually the date for the ministerial meeting that is going on. This is happening after some gap and we will share with you more details once the meeting is over, I'm not sure if it's already over, we will certainly issue something in detail on that. I don't want to get into whether what will be discussed, etc., because that's actually for that Ministry instead of me. And I think, Kallol asked specific questions on Kushiyara, the Ganga Water Treaty, I think Teesta, was it all 54 rivers, I think these are far too technical questions for me to answer particularly on the foreign policy side. But as I said, larger issue of cooperation on water resources or water related issues was discussed in the Secretary level and I assume is being discussed today. And as I said, more information will be shared after that meeting is over.

On the issue of CEPA with Bangladesh. Look, we'll see, as it goes, once the visit is announced as and when, and then we will try to share with you more information once I have some update on that.

Abhishek, your question regarding the kidnapping case of Deena, look these are issues that of course worry us a lot. We have seen media reports regarding this kidnapping, then forced conversion and marriage of the lady you mentioned Deena Kaur, Sikh Teacher from, I think Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It was also reported that the police refused to file an FIR following which the family and other Sikh community members staged a protest. It is shocking to see such further levels of religious intolerance in Pakistan. The apathy of law enforcement agencies towards religious minorities is of course, part of that system. And we see this as yet another instance of religious persecution faced by the minority communities in Pakistan. As you are aware, there have been unfortunately similar instances of targeted attacks on minorities in the recent past in Pakistan, including I think two Sikh traders in Peshawar in May, killing of an 18-year-old Hindu girl for resisting abduction in Sukkur in March 2022 and there was a brutal murder of a Christian pastor in Peshawar in February. From our perspective, these instances reveal the atmosphere of insecurity faced by religious minorities in Pakistan and we strongly condemn the targeting of minorities there, including Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. Actually the government of India has been raising such issues through diplomatic channels with the government of Pakistan and we call upon Pakistan to end this discriminatory approach towards its minorities and discharge its responsibility in ensuring the safety, security and well-being of all its citizens.

This statement that Suhasini you mentioned about, from Beijing, I haven't seen the full statement yet, and I think it is today, but I think some of the material that you said is exactly what we say, that two sides should stick to agreements in the past, and obviously that has not happened. I don't understand the reference to third party interference. The India-US exercises are something completely different. And I don't know what colour has been given that it is targeted there, or it is violating any existing agreement. I have no such information that I would be able to substantiate or agree to that. So that's broadly what I had.

Shrinjoy: One is that on the eve of the Hasina visit the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has asked India for help to conduct its next elections. That's one. The other is in recent UNSC voting it appears that India appears to have voted against Russia. So can you explain that.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look on the issue of the comments, I've seen the media reports, I presume you're talking about that. I understand there is a debate actually about the accuracy of those reports themselves, and the matter has also been clarified or is being clarified by the Bangladeshi authorities themselves. So I have nothing further to say on that. As regards the, you mean the security council vote on allowing President of Ukraine to participate, I think it was by virtual mode in a debate yesterday. My understanding is we have not voted against anybody. It was a proposal to allow him to vote, to speak virtually and we supported it. I think this was the third occasion that he spoke virtually. There have been two occasions in the past where he spoke virtually and we supported that. So there's no question of us voting against Russia in anyway.

Speaker 5: Sir one terrorist was nabbed by the agencies in Kashmir, who has said that some Pakistan Colonel has given (inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I saw that report. I'm sorry that's not an area of foreign policy. I don't think so. We've seen that report. Our views on how Pakistan has been promoting terrorism and what it needs to do to curb that are pretty well known.

Speaker 6: Has Pakistan confirmed its presence for the SCO counter-terrorism exercise in Manesar?

Ileana: I have one more question on relations with Russia. It's quite broader question, but it'll be good for my story.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: It wasn't objective of my briefing, but please ask.

Ileana: So, this year, Russia and India celebrate 75th anniversary of diplomatic ties. So what is India's assessment of current state of Indian and Russian relations and the most interesting, what is its strategy long term and short term?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I'm happy to answer that question first. I think it’s beyond the scope of a weekly briefing. The 75th Anniversary, of course, as a special Anniversary there will be activities around it, but I'm sorry, I'm not in the academic frame of mind, assessment of that kind of thing. On the SCO exercise I think you raised, look, my understanding is that Pakistan is only an observer for the closing ceremony of the event on October 13th. Okay. So that's all. Thank you very much for joining us today evening.

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