Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on upcoming visit of President to Vietnam and Australia

November 17, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar, good afternoon friends and welcome to this special briefing on President’s visit to Vietnam and Australia from November 18 to 24. To brief you on the visit I have with me Secretary (East) Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh. I also have with me the Press Secretary to the President, Shri Ashok Malik and Jt. Secretary (South), Manish. After the initial remarks by Secretary (East) I will request the Press Secretary to share his points regarding the visit of the President. Ma’am we will start with you, the floor is yours.

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: Good afternoon. Rashtrapati Ji will be visiting Vietnam and Australia from 18-24 November. He will be accompanied by a high level delegation which includes Shri Anant Kumar Hegde, Minister of State in the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Shri Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, Member of Parliament and Dr. Heena Vijaykumar Gavit, Member of Parliament.

Rashtrapati Ji’s visit is a part of India’s continuing and growing engagement with countries in the Indo-Pacific region under the rubric of the Act East Policy.

In the first leg Rashtrapati Ji will be travelling to Vietnam. This will be Rashtrapati Ji’s first visit to an ASEAN country since he assumed office. Moreover it will be the first interaction between leadership of our two countries after President Chung was elected in October 2018.

India and Vietnam have a comprehensive and strategic partnership and deep civilizational linkages as well as regular high level visits. Vietnam has been the country coordinator for India in the ASEAN for the last three years till the mid of 2018. It contributed immensely in building Indo-ASEAN relationship in many aspects including it was the coordinator when the commemorative summit of India-ASEAN took place here in January.

This year has been a significant year in our relationship with Vietnam because President Phu was here for commemorative summit, then late President of Vietnam Tran Dai Quang was in India in March 2018 and now Rashtrapati Ji would be visiting Vietnam.

Rashtrapati Ji will commence his visit in Tanang. Now this is a region with which India has rich and historical, civilizational connect which goes back and spans 2000 years. It is the location of World Heritage Site, My Son which has remnants of our Buddhists connection and the Hindu Cham civilization in the form of ancient Hindu Temples and in some of these temples the Archaeological Survey of India is undertaking restoration work. This will be the first high level visit from India to Tanang and signifies the ancient cultural and civilizational links with Vietnam.

Rashtrapati Ji will thereafter go to Hanoi where he will lay a wreath at the Monument of National Heroes and Martyrs and at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. There will be a ceremonial reception for Rashtrapati Ji at the Presidential palace. He will have a restricted meeting and delegation level talks with the President of Vietnam, His Excellency Mr. Phu Trong. Rashtrapati Ji will also meet Prime Minister Phuc and other leaders. He will be addressing the National Assembly of Vietnam as well.

Our trade relations have grown and registered an impressive growth. Indian companies are there, most significantly the ONGC Videsh Ltd. which has had operations in Vietnam since decades and that is one of the cases I am pointing out as an example of how deep our relationship is.

We have institutional mechanisms for dialogue. We have cooperation in defence, security, space and you would recall that Prime Minister when he visited Vietnam in 2016, when in fact our relationship became a comprehensive strategic partnership, then he announced a concessional credit of $500 million for defence procurement for Vietnam.

Rashtrapati Ji’s visit will contribute to the further strengthening of bilateral relations and the strong relationship which we enjoy with Vietnam.

The second leg of Rashtrapati Ji’s visit is to Australia which will be from 21 – 24 November. This is the first ever visit of a President of India to Australia. In fact when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Australia in 2014 it was a visit at the Prime Ministerial level after 30 years and this is going to first ever Presidential visit from India to Australia.

Prime Minister had met Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Singapore recently and as you know Prime Minister Scott Morrison just became Prime Minister in August and in their conversation Scott Morrison said he very much looks forward to Rashtrapati Ji’s visit to Australia and they are waiting to give a very warm reception and welcome.

In Australia there will be exchange of views at the political level and with the intention of taking the relationship forward. India and Australia are strategic partners and there is a growing cooperation and convergence of views on security, on defence and economic issues between two countries.

In Australia Rashtrapati Ji will be visiting Sydney as well as Melbourne. He will have discussions with Governor General, His Excellency Sir Peter Cosgrove at whose invitation the visit is taking place. You would recall that the Governor General was in India at the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance earlier this year and he has been to the National Defence College in his earlier capacity.

Rashtrapati Ji will be visiting Prime Minister Scott Morrison and in Sydney he will address the Indian community. You know that in Australia there is a large Indian diaspora, almost half a million strong and they have made significant contribution to Australia in the various professions that they are; as teachers, as accountants, doctors, engineers and they have been a bridge in building relations between our two countries.

In Sydney itself as a part of the ongoing celebrations and commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, President Kovind along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison will unveil the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parramatta in New South Wales. So this is a very significant event which will take place in Australia.

The economic relations between our two countries are growing, bilateral trade today stand at close to $20 billion and there are many sectors in which our two countries can intensify their economic cooperation including in the Fintech sector. Australia has come out with a paper which is the ‘Indian Economic Strategy’ which envisages increasing Australian investment in India from the present $10 billion to $100 billion by 2035. So we do hope that their funds including their pension funds look at investing in India.

It is with this view and to emphasize the many trade and economic opportunities that exist between our two countries that Rashtrapati Ji will be addressing the Australian Financial Review Business event and thereafter he will also grace the annual dinner of the Australia-India Business Council.

In Melbourne Rashtrapati Ji will be meeting the governor of Victoria, Hon’ble Linda Dessau. He will also address students in the Melbourne University. As you also know that there are large number of Indian students in Australia, almost about 70,000 and Australia has been a destination for Indian students, so Rashtrapati Ji will be speaking at the university as well.

So I have given you the broad contours of the program and Rashtrapati Ji’s visit. We are confident that his visit to both the countries will be important and in Australia it is significant in itself because it is the first ever visit of an Indian President to Australia. I think I will end here.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Ma’am. Now I invite Shri Ashok Malik.

Press Secretary to the President of India, Shri Ashok Malik: Thank you Raveesh. After the very comprehensive briefing by the Secretary there is very little to add. I’d only like to say that this is to give you some numbers.

This is the seventh state visit by President Kovind since he took office in July last year. It is his sixth state visit in 2018. This is the first time, as the Secretary mentioned, that he is travelling to an ASEAN country, it is also the first time he is travelling to the East of India in capacity as the President of India.

His visits so far have been to the West, they have spanned the Western Indian Ocean right up to the Atlantic. This visit will take him right up to the heart of the Indo-Pacific region. So in a sense after this visit he would have visited 16 countries and spanned the breadth of the Indian Ocean.

He looks forward to his visits to Vietnam and Australia. As Secretary explained he has met the leaders from both these countries in this calendar year itself and so it is appropriate and in some sense apposite that he is completing the circle with return visits. He looks forward to his public addresses and his interactions with the Governor General and the Prime Minister of Australia and the President and Prime Minister of Vietnam.

I’d also like to mention that the three member delegation from the government and parliament accompanying the President is perhaps one of the youngest such delegation to accompany a President of India.

Minister Hegde is 50 years old and the two MPs, one of them is in his 40s and the other one in her 30s. So this by all accounts is perhaps the youngest delegation ever to have accompanied the president of India, certainly one of the youngest. I’d like to stop there and would be happy to answer questions.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Ashok. Now I open the floor to questions.

Question: I am plain curious as to why we did not have a presidential visit for almost three decades?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: Well it sometimes happens that things happen at the moment and it is significant that it is taking place. I think that is the most important aspect that it is taking place to Australia this time.

Question: What kind of agreements are we looking at because earlier this year we had three pacts with Vietnam, and India-Vietnam they share robust defense cooperation. So anything on Aakash and Brahmos missiles?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: I would not get into the details but what you have mentioned is something that these aspects are not in the agenda now with Vietnam. We have defence cooperation with Vietnam. I would not go into details and rule out something but I can say that a number of joint exercises with them, we have naval visits with them. So I will profile what we have with them and what we discuss, we will let you know as we reach agreements.

Question: Is the India vision of the Indo-Pacific likely to be discussed with the top leadership of Vietnam because there are some reports that Vietnam is a bit uncomfortable with the Quad which India has forged with the Australia, Japan and the US. Apparently the Vietnam envoy made some remarks yesterday, so is this issue likely to figure when President Kovind meets his counterpart in Vietnam?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: On the contrary I would say that India and Vietnam have share a vision on the Indo-Pacific region, on the broad principles that the Indo-Pacific region should be free and open and that it should be rule based system in which there should be freedom of navigation, over-flight and for trade. So in that sense I would say that there is a greater convergence of views on these issues.

Question: ONGC has plans to expand oil exploration activities in the Vietnamese Sea, so is there any firm plan to sign any agreement, are you working on that?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh:
See, ONGC has been there for the last 25 years and it has two oil fields and we would continue our discussions with Vietnam on energy sector but as of now I would not say, at this stage, that there are going to be any specific announcements.

Question: There are still roadblocks in the import of Australian Uranium to India, when will that take place and will that issue come for discussion?

Jt. Secretary (South), Shri Manish: As you would be aware that Australia has supported our entry into MTCR and Wassenaar Arrangement and Australian Group. It also supports our entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group. So if you recall that in 2014 we signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement which came into force in November 2015 and Australian Parliament has also passed the Civil Nuclear Transfer to India Bill, 2016 and there exists a mechanism under which Australians are supplying Uranium to India.

So I’d say that there is a framework agreement under which there is an ongoing cooperation in the civil nuclear sector.

Question Contd.: That is agreed but the supply hasn’t started yet?

Jt. Secretary (South), Shri Manish: I think you don’t have the correct information on this. I think there is a G2G track on this and there are no roadblocks to our cooperation in the civil nuclear sector.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Any other question on any other aspect of President’s visit to Australia and Vietnam. I see none. Thank you Ma’am, thank you Ashok and Manish and thank you all for joining.



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