Transcript of Special Briefing by Secretary (East) on Vice President’s visit to Cambodia (November 12, 2022)

November 13, 2022

Ms. Navya Singla, US DD: Good Evening, everyone. Welcome to this special briefing on the ongoing visit of the Honourable Vice President of India to Cambodia. Today we have with us Secretary (East) Shri Saurabh Kumar sir, who will give you a sense of his engagements today and also what is coming tomorrow. We also have with us Ambassador of India to ASEAN Jayant sir, and Ambassador of India to Cambodia, Devyani ma’am, from the Ministry we had Vishwas sir and JS IP Geetika Maám. Without further ado, sir, I'll hand over the mic to you for some opening remarks and then we can take some questions.

Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East): So Good Evening, friends, my apologies for being late. So let me just run you through Vice President's program today, what he did yesterday, I would briefly cover that and what is scheduled for tomorrow. So today, the Honourable Vice President of India Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar Ji participated in the 19th ASEAN -India Summit. This Summit has been designated as we all know, ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to mark the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-India relations. The Honourable Vice President had good exchange of views with the ASEAN leaders. The Summit is historic as it would elevate the ASEAN-India relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Just now the relationship is designated as a strategic partnership after today's Summit, it is called a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The outcome document of today's meeting, establishing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership has already been loaded on the MEA website so you all can have a look at it. This partnership would focus on practical cooperation in five areas and I would just spell them out for you Advance Maritime Cooperation in areas of Maritime Security, disaster management, emergency response and relief, as well as through implementation of projects under ASEAN Outlook of Indo-Pacific and Indo- Pacific Oceans Initiative. So I think this gives the maritime thrust to the relationship. Second point is strengthening cooperation in Cyber Security, Digital Economy FinTech Cooperation, including exploring inter-operability of Digital Financial Systems. Third area would be, enhance cooperation in the field of Sustainable Development, with focus on New and Emerging Technology in areas such as Renewable Energy, Smart Agriculture, Smart Cities, healthcare, and cooperation in the space sector. Fourth point is, promote revival of tourism and enhance youth centric activities to promote people to people connectivity. And lastly, work together on regional and global issues of common concern to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region. As I've already mentioned, the Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of the leaders has been uploaded on MEA's website.

A few other points at the summit today Honourable Vice President, underline the centrality of ASEAN in India's vision of the Indo- Pacific. He noted that partnership with ASEAN is the key pillar of India's Act East Policy. So this is our position and it was a reiteration by the Vice President at the Summit. Honourable Vice President highlighted the importance of greater physical, digital and people to people connectivity between ASEAN and India. He underlined the need for greater cooperation in our shared journey of digital transformation through enhanced cooperation in Smart City and FinTech, these are the points I have earlier mentioned also. Calling for greater economic engagement between India and ASEAN Honourable Vice President underlined the need for early conclusion of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement to make it more trade facilitator. It received the support of all ASEAN leaders. So I think this is also an important outcome, we have been working on it and I think it was reemphasized during the Summit. Honourable Vice President also underlined the importance of enhancing ASEAN- India cooperation in face of global challenges to ensure our climate, health, food and energy security. He announced the additional contribution of US$5 million by India to the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund to enhance our cooperation on emerging areas of public health, renewable energy, smart agriculture, and blue economy.

The Vice President will also participate in the 17th East Asia Summit tomorrow, which will be chaired by Cambodia in its capacity as the ASEAN Chair. During the Summit, the Honourable Vice President is expected to re-affirm the importance of East Asia Summit, as a premier leaders led forum in the region and would underscore the centrality of ASEAN and ASEAN-led mechanism in the Indo- Pacific. He will also exchange views on issues of regional and global importance. So I think this brings me to an end as far as these multilateral engagements were concerned.

Vice President, as you all know, had bilateral engagements with the Cambodian side, I would just give you a good quick read up on that. So as we are reaching the end of day two of Vice President's visit, let me take you through briefly and sequentially on what has transpired thus far on the bilateral front, and also try and give you some sense of the outcomes of these meetings.

We had reached Phnom Penh yesterday evening, the very first programme. So this I'm just stepping back and going to yesterday's programme before I come to what happened on the bilateral front today. The very first program yesterday was the dance performance organised by the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in honour of the Honourable Vice President. This performance was an episode from Mahabharat by a Kathakali dance troupe from India. Prior to the Kathakali dance performance, there was a Cambodian dance performance of two scenes from the Mahabharat. So this was again done by Cambodian troops, but the focus was again on Mahabharat. As you all are aware, we have civilizational connection with Cambodia, which goes back into history. After the cultural programme, Honourable Vice President, saw a painting exhibition by the ASEAN-India Artists Group. Though there is a small Indian community in Cambodia it was good to see so many turning up for the event, along with the Cambodian friends, Minister of Culture of Cambodia graciously kept company and was there right through the cultural performance and also during the community event which the Vice President had.

Just a little bit of elaboration on this painting exhibition. This was part of the 30 year celebrations between India and ASEAN. We had a group of ASEAN artists, 10 of them, which came to India we had 10 Indian artists also, and in Udaipur for nine days they worked alongside each other and created these paintings. So this was again, you know, emphasizing the youth cooperation between India and Cambodia, India and ASEAN. And I think in the Cambodian context, I think given a cultural and civilizational connect, and in the larger Southeast Asian contex,t this exhibition had a great significance.

So, coming to today on the bilateral front, the first program of today was the meeting between Honourable Vice President and Prime Minister Hun Sen. Prime Minister Hun Sen thanked Vice President for attending the Summit and congratulated him for assuming the office of Vice President. He said that the Vice President's visit would strengthen bilateral relations between our two countries. He also expressed condolences for the Morbi tragedy, the collapse of the bridge. PM Hun Sen mentioned that India was the first democratic country to recognize Cambodian Government following the ouster of Khmer Rouge. He recalled his visit to India in 1981, soon after, we recognized the Cambodian Government when he was only 29 years old, and a Foreign Minister, and appreciated the support which India has given Cambodia, right from that time, both in the political as well as in the economic area, as well as on the cultural front. I think restoration of cultural heritage of Cambodia has been an area in which we have been very extensively engaged starting from mid-80s, up to mid-90s I think we were one of the first countries to come in and do the renovation work at Angkor Wat. Prime Minister Hun Sen also made a reference to the importance his government is giving to de-mining, with the objective of making Cambodia a mine free country by 2025. And in this context, thanked India for the support it has been getting from India. He expressed his desire for enhanced bilateral trade and growth in cooperation and sought more assistance in the areas of agriculture and irrigation.

I may mention out here that we already have a line of credit of US $ 102 million, which is presently under operation, and irrigation and power transmission projects are being undertaken by the Cambodian Government utilizing this line of credit. Vice President, in return, congratulated Cambodia for its successful Presidency of ASEAN and seven decades of India Cambodia bilateral relations. He emphasized the importance of Cambodia in India's Act East Policy. He assured further support in preservation of cultural heritage, de-mining, human resource development and capacity building. Vice President thanked Cambodia for its support for India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council and mentioned that we are looking forward to the visit of Deputy Commander in Chief General Hun Manet to India at an early date. So the dates for this visit are presently under discussion. Three Memorandums of Understanding and one Financing Agreement were exchanged in the presence of Honourable Vice President and Prime Minister Hun Sen. I will just quickly list these out: Cooperation in the Field of Health and Medicine between the respective Health Ministries, Cooperation in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Wildlife Management between respective Ministries of Environment, third would be Cooperation in the field of Research, Development and Application of Technology for Digital Documentation of Cultural Heritage between IIT Jodhpur and Institute of Technology, Cambodia and lastly- this third one would be utilized for digitization of the Buddhist documents which Cambodia has, Pali, and the last one is a Financing Agreement on Conservation and Preservation of Wat Raja Bo Pagoda Paintings in Siem Reap, Cambodia. So, again, you can see the cultural heritage element of our cooperation. As part of de-mining support which I have already referred to India will be providing a grant assistance of over 426,000 US dollars for demining in three districts and one commune in the country. And I think after this activity is undertaken, these areas, the three districts and the commune would be completely mine free.

So, earlier in August 2020, India and Cambodia had signed a G2G Agreement. This again is I'm dwelling upon, giving you a little bit of background on the demining cooperation. In August 2020 we had signed a Government to Government agreement for provision of US dollar 1.5 million grant for provision of demining equipment to the Royal Cambodian armed forces. India has gifted 15 trained mines sniffer dogs to Cambodia. Four more trained mine sniffer dogs would be gifted and of this 1.5 million US dollar, 20% has already been given and demining equipment would be procured utilizing this money. Honourable Vice President also announced increase in the number of Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation slots for Cambodia, increasing them from 200 to 250 and increase in ICCR Scholarships from 30 to 50. This again is a part of capacity building and human resource development cooperation which we have.

During VP’s Meeting with the President of the Senate His Excellency Say Chhum, the following was agreed to, enhance parliamentary cooperation. Vice President invited President of the Senate and parliamentary delegation to visit India, President of the Senate gladly accepted the invitation and the dates would be worked out through diplomatic channels. Both sides agreed to renew an MOU for parliamentary cooperation, which we had, and has lapsed, and that could be renewed again. And it was also agreed to continue with capacity building. This again, is as I've mentioned, important area of cooperation. So in the parliamentary domain also we have been undertaking, and we would continue capacity building cooperation.

His Majesty King, Norodom Sihamoni received the Vice President at the Royal Palace with a lot of warmth and grace this evening. This was in fact Vice President's last engagement before he returned to the hotel. His Majesty recalled relations between his father King Norodom Sianom and the Indian leadership and the good relations which exist between the two countries at present. He thanked India for supporting Cambodia at all times, particularly during the difficult periods of Cambodia. He also thanked India for its support in all sectors to help the country develop. He conveyed his warmest regards and affection to our Prime Minister and to the President. Vice President conveyed to His Majesty that Cambodia is not just in India's extended neighbourhood, but is a part of India's extended family. Honourable Vice President conveyed that we are looking forward to His Majesty and Queen mother's long overdue visit to India. And we would be working with the Cambodian side for this particular visit. Honourable Vice President conveyed the greetings of President and Prime Minister of India to the King.

Vice President also today between the meeting at the Senate and at the Royal Palace, visited the National Museum of Cambodia, which is home to a very fine collection of art pieces. Those of you who have been there know what I'm talking of. If some of you have not been there, please go there. Honourable Vice President and the spouse had a guided tour of the museum.

Let me emphasize that all bilateral meetings of the Honourable Vice President were held in an atmosphere of great warmth and friendship and we are very confident that this very important and significant visit of the Vice President which is taking place after seven years, the last time when Vice President was here was in 2015, So this visit will take our relationship further ahead deepen our historical bonds of friendship. So let me conclude by just mentioning that tomorrow following participation in the East Asia Summit, as I've already mentioned, on his way back to India, Vice President would stop at Siem Reap where he would inaugurate the Hall of Dancers at the Ta Prohm temple and also visit Angkor Wat. Both these sites are where Archaeological Survey of India has been involved in conservation and preservation work of cultural heritage, which I have referred to earlier. So thank you very much for your patience. It was a long briefing, but the Vice President had a hectic schedule, I thought it would be good to go over all of it.

Ms. Navya Singla, US DD: Thank you sir for sharing with us the details of the Vice President's engagements. I will now open the floor to questions please introduce yourself and your organization for the record.

Sushil Batra: Sir, Sushil Batra from ANI. Sir in the side-lines of ASEAN Mr. Jaishankar also met with the counterparts of Canada and Ukraine. Can you share details of this?

Speaker 2: Sir Defence Ministers of ASEAN Countries and India are going to be meeting on 20 Nov. So, what are our expectations?

Ms. Navya Singla, US DD: Just to remind everyone this briefing is on the Visit of the Vice President so let's try and limit our questions to that please.

Umesh Sharma: Mera naam umesh sharma hai, main Sansad TV se hoon, agar baat trade ki karen to aane vaale dinon mein Bharat aur ASEAN deshon ki trade ko aap kitna badhte dekh rahe ho ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) My name is Umesh Sharma, I am from Sansad TV, if you talk about trade, then how much do you see the trade between India and ASEAN countries increasing in the coming days?

Manohar Singh: Manohar singh hu UNI-Varta se, aapki briefing k baad mere dimag mein do teen sawal uthe hain, ek to ASEAN k baare mein hai, jo ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement hua hai, usme abi bahut jyada progress nahi hui hai, jisko renew karne ja rahe the hum. Doosra hai Cambodia ke baare mein, yaha ke Military ke Deputy Chief ki yatra ka kya significance hai, aur doosra jab hum Cambodia k sath vyapar badhana chah rahe hain aur Cambodia ko maante hain k ye hamara external Parivar hai, lekin aaj tak Cambodia aur Bharat ke beech mein jo yatra hai wo seedhe nahi hai, rukna padta hai. To is sambandh mein, is yatra mein kya baat hui hai? (Questioned in Hindi, approximate translation) Manohar Singh from UNI-Varta, two three questions have arisen in my mind following your briefing. First is about ASEAN, there is not much progress in ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement, which was going to be renewed by us. Second is about Cambodia, what is the significance of the visit of Deputy Chief of Military from here? Another is that even if we desire to increase trade with Cambodia and consider Cambodia our external family, there is no direct journey between Cambodia and India, there is a halt. In this regard, what talks have been done in this visit?

Ms. Navya Singla, US DD: Sir I think you can take this round sir.

Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East):

So Manohar ji, jo FTA hai iske, main aapko batana chahunga kahan pe hain hamlog, iska review ho raha hai, review ke liye scoping exercise honi thi, key review ka scope kya hoga woh scoping exercise khatam ho gai hai. uspe ab agreement hai, aur ab review key jo karwai hogi woh shuru hogi. Toh India-Asean meeting hui usmen sabhi desho ka India ka bhi, hamlogo ka expectation hai ki ye jo review exercise hogi ye jaldi hogi aur jo hamara naya agreement niklega wo trade facilitative hoga, business friendly hoga aur usake antargat jo trade or vyapar hoga usmein humko badhava milega.

Umesh ji aapne bhi trade ke baare mein poochha tha, hamara bilateral trade jo hai hamari figures ke anusar woh 110 billion hai, aur hamen vishvas hai ki ye aur badhega aur ye jo ATIGA ka jo review process hai wo agar complete ho jata hai to woh is trade growth ko aur bhi momentum impart karega.

Manohar ji, aapka jo dusra question tha jo inke Deputy Commander-in-Chief ki jo visit hai, har visit mahatvapurna apne mein hoti hai ye Deputy Commander in Chief hai to hamara jaisa maine aapko bataya tha defence area ek area hai jisamen hamlog apne relationship ko aage badhana chahte hain, hamne Line-of-Credit bhi Cambodia ko offer kiya hua hai aur Hun Manet ji key jab visit hogi to defence cooperation ke baaren mein Line-of-Credit jo hamane diya hai usake utilisation ke baare mein, in sabhi muddon mein vartalap hogi. aur hamare jo army to army relationship hai jinko staff talks hum kehte hai un sab muddon pe bhi vichar-vimarsh kiya jaaega.

Aapne direct connectivity ki bhi baat kahi hai, ye connectivity ASEAN ke saath jaisa hamane bataya ek aham pramukh mudda hai aur road connectivity pe humlog kaam kar rahe hain kafi batchit hui hai. Air connectivity bhi important hai aur ismein bhi hamara dhyan hai or hum aage badhne ki koshish kar rahe hain. Yahan pe cultural heritage itani achchhi hai, abhi hamare jo tourist aate hai Bharat se unki sankhya bahut jyada nahi hai lekin connectivity badhegi, awareness badhegi to hum ummid rakhte hai ki yahan pe Bharat se jo hamare tourist hai woh jyada aayenge aur hum yahan se bhi bharat jaane vaale tourist hain unko bhi badhawa dena chahenge.

Defence Ministers’ meeting ke baare mein yeh pehli baar mukhya baat ye hai ki jab ye meeting hogi isi mahine mein baad mein to ye pehli baar India-ASEAN defence ministers meeting hogi jo ki ADMM plus jo mechanism hai usake side-lines pe hogi aur kiss muddon pe baat kari jayegi ye abhi batana premature hoga hamare liye. lekin main apeksha karta hoon ki jitne bhi important mudde hain, bilateral mudde jo hamare doosre desho ke sath hain aur jo hamare ASEAN ke saath jo relationship hai defence or security side mein in sab mein vichar kiya jaega.

(Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation)

So, Manohar ji, I would like to tell you where we are, it is being reviewed, there was a scoping exercise for review that what will be the scope of the review, that scoping exercise has ended. There is an agreement on it now and now the process of review will start, then the India-ASEAN meeting of all the countries will also be of India, we expect that this review exercise will be done soon and our new agreement will be trade facilitative, business friendly and under that we will get promotion in trade.

Umesh ji, you also asked about trade, our bilateral trade which is 110 billion according to our figures and we are confident that it will increase further and if the review process that is ongoing becomes complete, then it will impart this trade growth even more momentum.

Manohar ji, the second question of yours, which is the visit of Deputy Commander-in-Chief, every visit is important in itself. So as I told you, the defence area is an area in which we want to take our relationship forward, we have also offered Line of Credit to Cambodia and when the visit will happen, there will be a conversation in all these issues, and about Line of Credit utilisation. You have also talked about direct connectivity; this connectivity is an important issue with ASEAN as we mentioned and we are working on road connectivity. There has been a lot of conversation.

Air connectivity is also important and we are focussing on it and we are trying to move forward. The cultural heritage here is so good, the number of tourists who come from India right now is not very high but connectivity will increase, awareness will increase, then we hope that more tourists from India will come here and we would also like to promote tourists going to India from here.

About the Defence Ministers Meeting’, this is the first time that this meeting will be held. Later this month, it will be the first India-ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting, which will be on the side-lines of the ADMM Plus mechanism. What issues will be talked about- I expect that all the important issues, bilateral issues with ASEAN countries and the relationship that we have with ASEAN, will be considered in the defence and security side.

Sushil Ji, I think you asked about EAM’s meetings, all I can say is EAM had a good exchange of views with his Ukrainian and Canadian counterparts. Of course, with the Ukrainian side, you can imagine that apart from our bilateral relationship, the state of play as far as the situation in Ukraine is concerned, I think those aspects were discussed. And with his Canadian counterpart, he had a good discussion, covered our bilateral relationship, discussed about community welfare aspects like trade. So all the entire gamut of relationship was discussed. G20 also figured in the discussions which he had with the Canadian side.

Sushant: I’m Sushant from DD News. (inaudible) Now taking the issue of maritime security in the Indo Pacific region how important would be the Defence Ministers Summit (inaudible) and also the support of ASEAN?

Tina: I’m Tina from Sansad TV. I'm here as part of the ASEAN-India Media exchange program. Sir my question is related to the maritime cooperation and since it figures prominently in the five focus areas as part of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between ASEAN and India, the fact is that ASEAN does not have a sectoral institution that deals with maritime issues. Does it become difficult to implement when we talk about advancing engagement on maritime issues? So how do we tackle this?

Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East): So maritime there are several mechanisms, which we have with ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum for example is a body where confidence building measures in different areas are discussed and maritime aspects are discussed there, I think this is one of the bodies which is there. So, they have their outlook for the Indo Pacific, we have our Indo Pacific Oceans initiative, and one of the themes, you know, which was conveyed by almost, at least by most of the leaders, in the meeting today was to come up with practical areas of cooperation in the maritime domain. So, we do not see any difficulties in terms of implementation. We have things like HADR Search and rescue and we are looking at SOPs or standard practices in these areas. So, these discussions are already going on. We also do things like, you know, we have workshops on blue economy, which will be held, in the past, you know, we have done things like plastics in the ocean. So, of course, the effort would be to see how the institutional framework is strengthened, but not to say that we do not have any institutional framework to carry out the activities. I think I have answered your question also, when I said that ASEAN Outlook on the Indo Pacific and our Indo-Pacific Oceans initiativ, and how we can build upon these themes were mentioned by almost all the leaders when they spoke today.

Ms. Navya Singla, US DD : Thank you so much sir for sparing time for the briefing. Thank you friends from the media. Stay tuned to our social media handles and our website for further update. Thank you so much.


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