Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson
Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. I have one announcement to make, following which I am open for any questions that you may have on that. Other than that if you have any other issues, I will try and respond to them. The announcement that I have to make relates to the forthcoming visit of theExternal Affairs Minister Shrimati Sushma Swaraj to Singapore.
The External Affairs Minister will be travelling to Singapore from the evening of the 15th to the morning of the 17th. The visit is primarily to flag off the year-long celebrations that we are planning in Singapore for the fifty years of India-Singapore diplomatic relations.
The External Affairs Minister will flag this off with her counterpart Mr. Shanmugam. In addition, theExternal Affairs Ministerwill also meet a cross-section of the Singapore leadership including theirPrime Minister. She will interact with thought leaders and think tanks in Singapore. Also, she will interact with the vibrant Indian community there.
During the course of the year-long celebrations (during 2014-2015) we expect that there would be high-level visits exchanged between Singapore and India. As you are perhaps aware, Singapore is our largest trading partner in ASEAN. It is also the source of the highest FDI to India which is approximately USD 5.9 billion last year. It is also the destination of the highest Indian investments abroad during the last decade or so. It houses approximately 4000 to 4500 Indian companies who have offices there.
Apart from a general discussion of the bilateral relations, the External Affairs Minister will be focused on trying to obtain Singapore’s cooperation in the projects that we have in mind in terms of infrastructure, which is the Smart Cities project. She will also try and work with them to see if they could participate in the rejuvenation of Indian cities. So, smart new cities and the rejuvenation of Indian cities is a major project that the Government of India is launching.
Already Singapore firms have won major contracts in the DMIC. These contracts relate to three areas. My understanding is, in Dahej they have won the largest water desalination project contract. Also there are two other Singapore firms who have, in different places in Haryana, won contracts relating to I think integrated management of water and also for their planning purposes.
Singapore has a very interesting use of water. Approximately 30 per cent of their water is used from storage based on rainwater storage and recycling of waste water. This is a concept that would be extremely useful for us to see and try and emulate in some of our big urban cities.
So, that is the focus of the External Affairs Minister’s interaction with the Singapore leadership. I think I will stop there. If you have any questions, I am willing to answer those on Singapore or on anything else. The floor is now open.
Question:Sir, will these celebrations happen only in Singapore or will they happen in India also?
Official Spokesperson: There will be some events worked out in India also. We are in the process of that. Singapore plans a year-long thing. Otherwise, in India there will be events focused, unlike in Singapore where they are planning a year-long series of festivities.
Question:Sir, Tamil Nadu’s rank in rainwater harvesting is No.1. Under the circumstances, where is the need for the External Affairs Minister going to Singapore and having a consultation? The Prime Minister himself admitted in the Parliament that Tamil Nadu ranks No.1 in water harvesting. Instead of going to Singapore, is there any chance of the External Affairs Minister having a meeting with the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu?
Official Spokesperson: This is not a foreign policy issue. The External Affairs Minister takes every opportunity to meet important leaders in India, and certainly the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is a very important leader in India. However, what we are now talking is diplomatic initiatives and cooperation from international partners in India. If there are any issues that the DMIC or other projects can emulate from the best practices in India, I think there are other Departments in India which would be best suited to respond to this suggestion that you have.
Question:The Foreign Ministers of India and China met in Myanmar last week. Among other things they surely must have discussed the dates of the forthcoming visit of Chinese President to India. Could you give us a sense of which dates, if not exact dates around what time we are looking at that, and maybe a detailed brief on some issues that were discussed?
Official Spokesperson: Yes, the External Affairs Minister had a fairly detailed and substantive meeting with the Foreign Minister of China. This was her second meeting with the Foreign Minister of China. As you know, Foreign Minister Wang Yi was the first Foreign Minister she received in India after taking over as the External Affairs Minister. Then he had come as a Special Envoy of President Xi Jinping to Delhi.
Let me first finish the dates since all of you are interested in dates. I do not know what significance ‘x’ date has against ‘y’ date, but since you are interested I will indicate to you that the visit is likely to be in September. This will be perhaps in the third week of September. Exact dates will only be announced when both China and India are ready to announce those dates.
Leaving that aside let us go to the substance of the discussions. The discussions related to ensuring that when President Xi visits India we should have substantive outcomes. Therefore, they discussed a whole gamut of issues which could serve as outcomes for President Xi’s visit to India. You are aware that there are various issues on the table which are perennials in India-China relationship, and we covered all these issues including matters of trade, matters relating to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, possibilities of a new route on that, discussions related to how to narrow the trade gap between India and China, possibilities of investment from China in industrial parks in India, the entire gamut of relations which all of you are quite familiar with. This was a substantive and a very satisfactory meeting, and in our assessment has paved the way for what we look forward to be an interesting and successful visit from President Xi to India.
Question:Akbar, as you know, India has already had top-level meetings with China and Russia, and bilateral summits with both of them are expected later this year. Would you say that by the time we have bilateral summits with Russia and China, India will be ready for trading with them in Rouble and Yuan? What is the status?
Official Spokesperson: Let me tell you that these discussions that we had either between Prime Minister and President Putin or between the two External Affairs Ministers did not cover these aspects. These are extremely technical aspects which will need to be addressed by our specialists. And I think we are still some way off from what you are suggesting in terms of timeframe.
Question:Before the Chinese President comes to India, have any Special Representatives’ talks been scheduled?
Official Spokesperson: Not to my knowledge.
Question:US Defence Secretary…(Inaudible)…pichhli baar koi Prime Minister Pentagon mein kab gaya tha, Sir?
Official Spokesperson: I will have to check both these things. I have no readout on that. Obviouslyagar honge, toh hum tabhi announce karenge jab jaa rahe hain, advance mein toh nahin kar sakenge.We never tell you in advance. That is our track record, we will stick to it.
Question:Sir, kal joh Pradhan Mantri ne apna bayaan diya tha aatankvaad ko lekar. uspar aaj Pakistan ka javaab aaya hai. Unka kehna hai hamaare khud hi 55,000 se zyada log maare gaye hain, hum khud hi aatankvaad se peedit hain, aur Bharat ko sivaay blame game ke yeh dekhna chahiye ki kaise donon desh baat-cheet karke apne sambandhon ko majboot kar saken. Is par aap ka kuchh kehna hai?
Official Spokesperson: Terrorism for us is a real and present danger. The Prime Minister was articulating what is for us a core concern in our relations with Pakistan. Mere denials or selective approaches towards terrorism are not going to drive away our concerns. These concerns stem from the fact that some of the worst terrorist attacks in India owe their genesis to areas which were either under Pakistani control or in Pakistan. Take for example the attack on our Parliament which is one of the most sacred institutions in India. Also, the heinous killing of Indians and people of 16 other nationalities in Mumbai cannot be just wished away. These are matters of present and real concern to us. And Prime Minister was articulating our core concerns in our relationship with Pakistan.
Question:This is a follow-up question. PM has said thatPakistan is indulging in a proxy war. Aur saath hi saath yeh issue Parliament mein uthaya ja raha hai ki baat-cheet nahin honi chahiye. Toh kya aise mein joh 25 tareekh ko talks honewali hain Foreign Secretaries ke beech mein, voh hongi ya phir …(Inaudible)… postpone karne ke liye?
Official Spokesperson: I never get involved in speculative statements. However, let me tell you that the two Foreign Secretaries are meeting in the context of directives provided by the Prime Ministers to be in touch and look at the way forward in bilateral India-Pakistan relations. This stems from the initiative by our Prime Minister when he invited the Prime Minister of Pakistan to his swearing-in ceremony, inauguration ceremony, in Delhi. India will in any case address its concerns on terrorism through all means that are available to us. Our toolkit is not restricted in any manner.
Question:Vis-a-vis Iraq, how have the ground dynamics really changed given the US air strikes? And are you still assured that the Indians in captivity in Mosul are unharmed as of now?
Official Spokesperson: In war situations there is no certainty about safety. In conflict situations there is no certainty about safety, in custody especially. That said, given that these are dynamic situations, we keep in touch with those who are in touch with the Indian nationals who are in the conflict zone in custody. Our information is, and that is the last information that we received, not information which is old and outdated but information that we last received, was that the Indian nationals remain in custody.
Question:What is India’s stand on Yazidis’ killing in Iraq?
Official Spokesperson: Stances on killings are obvious. There is no question of having any stance except that nobody likes any killings of any sort. So, my point is slightly different.
In Iraq, what is currently under way is that we need to monitor the multiple directions in which there is evolution in Iraq, in the political situation, in the security situation. At this stage, we are in a mode of monitoring it and assessing what its impact will be for us, our interest as well as Indian nationals there. Once we make that complete assessment, we will certainly share it with you.
Question:On the Indians held captive in Mosul, you said information last received. When was this last received?
Official Spokesperson: My understanding is it was after the problem in Mosul started, the recent issues. So, it may be about four days to five days. I cannot offhand give you an exact date to recollect. But that was the most recent after the situation deteriorated there, after the threats to Erbil from the ISIS, this is the situation at that time.
Official Spokesperson: I had responded to you of what information I have. This is not a day to day thing that we are everyday in touch with everybody.
There have not been any airstrikes in Mosul. So, airstrikes are in locations near Erbil. What I have in terms of what I can share with you, and that is confirmed information, that is the information that we can term as corroborated by our sources on the ground, and that is the Indians remain in custody.
Question:A couple of weeks back, from Tamil Nadu, BJP leaders along with the representatives and officials met Sushma Swaraj in the Ministry and they talked about the fishermen issue. The Chief Minister is also continuously writing letters to the Prime Minister. Right now Sushma is making visit to the neighbouring countries. When would her Sri Lanka visit be?
Official Spokesperson: We are engaged with Sri Lanka. I think you would recollect, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister did visit India sometime ago. We had very useful discussions at that stage where it was agreed that we need to look at longer term solutions for the problems relating to fishermen. Also, we are engaged with Sri Lanka to have a meeting of the Joint Fishermen’s Committee that was set up. Joint Committee of Officials to discuss the fishermen’s issue. We are working on these two aspects and once we decide on outcomes or the dates for those, we will certainly share them with you.
As regards engagement with Sri Lanka, I mentioned to you that External Affairs Minister did already meet the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka who was here perhaps a month ago. So, engagement with Sri Lanka is on ongoing basis. We have very active missions on both sides and we continued to be engaged. And at the first and earliest opportunity the External Affairs Minister had indicated she will visit all neighbours and that certainly includes Sri Lanka which is an important and close neighbourhood.
Question:Have the dates for PM’s visit to Japan been decided?
Official Spokesperson: They have not yet been announced.
Question:This is about doctors in Nigeria.…(Inaudible)…It appears that the hospitals they are working in, there are no cases of Ebola. And if they leave, they will either face charges of negligence or if one of the 30 people still in the hospital they are treating die, they will face criminal charges. Could you give us more details of what is going on? Is the Nigerian Government is involved in any way, or is it just a Primus hospital vs. four doctors’ case?
Official Spokesperson: First, this is not an issue between India and Nigeria. The hospital is Indian-owned, Indian-established, and Indian-run. The doctors are Indian. As of this time, this is not a diplomatic issue of any sort between India and Nigeria. That is point No.1. No.2 you are right, our understanding is that as of now there has not been any case of Ebola in Abuja. The nearest known case is in Lagos which is several hundred kilometres away. Neither our High Commission in Abuja, nor our Office in Lagos has issued any advisory for Indians to leave those places. We have a Office running in Lagos and we have a full-fledged High Commission in Abuja.
That said, of course it is an individual choice for any individual to leave a job that he or she is working on, and it happens in situations of stress, in situations of crisis that individual’s choose certain actions. These doctors have been in touch with the High Commission on a regular basis. They also met our High Commissioner a couple of days ago.
The issues are as follows. They desire to leave. The hospital is of the view that they have not been asked to address any case of Ebola because the hospital is not designated to handle such cases. What they were handling are cases which include some in the ICU. The hospital’s view is that should they leave these cases unattended, they may have to face consequences of a legal nature from the patients. That is because the hospital feels that these were the doctors who were handling those cases.
On the other hand, doctors feel that their safety, their health is in jeopardy. This is their personal assessment. And they would like to leave. The High Commission is trying to work with both these parties to find out a way from this situation which is basically an issue between an Indian-owned, Indian-established, and Indian-run organisation in a foreign country. And Indians who have gone there are part of their contractual agreement, we hope that we can find an amicable solution between these two different viewpoints and we are working towards that solution. It obviously requires some time to work these things through.
There is also the issue of their passports and it is true that there is no law which permits a hospital to keep passports of Indian nationals with them. We have taken it up with the hospital concerned, and have asked them to hand over those passports to the Indian doctors because this is not permissible under Indian law nor is it permissible under local law. Therefore, these are the dimensions of that issue. We continue to be engaged. We will work with both the hospital and the doctors concerned to see if we can find a solution in a situation where the doctors obviously are personally under stress in a crisis-ridden situation.
Question:My question is about the Indo-US annual bilateral. This time, is Fed Chairman Janet Yellen visiting India as part of the Indo-US annual bilateral?
Official Spokesperson: I am totally blindsided by your question. I will try and locate the information and respond to you.
Question:Could we ask you to announce the dates for the Japan visit please?
Official Spokesperson: I am grateful for that request but I am afraid I cannot oblige. These dates will be announced on the 15thof August because bilaterally we work out with various countries when to announce a certain visit, and we have agreed bilaterally that we will announce this on 15th. So, at least I have told you when we will announce these dates. Some step better than before. So, look at the website in the morning of the 15th. You will have the dates available to you.
Question:Would it be part of Independence Day speech?
Official Spokesperson: No, unfortunately I am going to disappoint you. This will be a small little statement on our website. Nothing big that requires to be told from the ramparts of the Red Fort, a small little announcement. This is the first time I am making an announcement about an announcement. But then this is the way we are moving. Since all of you want something to know, I have been able to give you that morsel of information that on the 15th of August, the announcement will be made about the forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister to Japan.
And let me tell you this is based on a bilateral understanding. The Japanese reporters here can confirm, I understand that there is going to be a meeting of the Japanese Cabinet and they will approve this formally before we make that announcement. So, while it is "free for all” and all of you speculate, we can only go in accordance with the wishes of our Japanese hosts. And I am certain you will have enough time on the 15th to report that.
If there are no further questions, thank you very much for being here this afternoon.
13 August 2014