Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson in Brisbane on Prime Minister’s ongoing visit to Australia (November 15, 2014)

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this evening. What I will try and do is run you through what have been the major activities of the Prime Minister today and what will be the principal focus of his attention tomorrow.

I have also requested the Sherpa Mr. Suresh Prabhu to talk to you at the end of the G20 tomorrow to give you a broader picture rather than titbits of it so that you understand the whole picture.

The Prime Minister today had a very busy schedule like it has been since he came here orrathersince he left India. He started this morning with a meeting of the BRICS. This was an informal meeting. We have circulated to all of you the opening remarks which were available. Subsequent to that, each of the BRICS leaders was to provide their view of the global situation. This was a closed-door informal session. I will try and give you excerpts of what the Prime Minister’s view was in that meeting. What he said in the opening remarks is already available in the public domain.

Subsequent to the BRICS meeting was a session which is called the Retreat Session of the G20. I had mentioned yesterday that Prime Minister had been requested specifically by Prime Minister Abbott to make an intervention during this session, and he did make that intervention. This was focused on the concept of reforms, how in his own experience reforms need to proceed, and how he sees reforms can proceed for any developing country or reform measures anywhere else. There was a lot of interest in this topic and, therefore, Prime Minister decided to accede to the request and spoke at the Retreat Session. Again this was a closed session and it was not open to the public. This was a leaders-only session. However, I will try and give you again glimpses of what was the approach that the Prime Minister took there.

After these, he also had two bilateral meetings, with the President of France Francois Hollande and the Prime Minister of Canada Mr. Stephen Harper. In addition, given that the leaders were in close proximity they had several occasions to interact. The Prime Minister did interact with several leaders including President Obama, President Putin, Prime Minister Abbott, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and several others.

Let me try and go back to the first event and then try and narrate for you what are the main features of Prime Minister’s initial intervention. As I said, the focus was on what we perceive is the global climate now and what are the areas that need to be focused on. Prime Minister felt that the G20 Summit is being held in the shadow of continuing weak economic growth and it is affecting growth in developing countries too. There are also concerns about the impact of political turbulence, security challenges and the pandemics like Ebola.

He then said that there was a need for a positive political and economic international environment to achieve our goals because several countries are, like India, in the process of wanting to go on a faster trajectory of growth, and the international environment through organisations or groups like the G20 can support this effort, and that should be the approach that the BRICS countries should take when they meet in the G20 because this was a precursor to the G20 meeting. He felt that there was a strong need to give a message to revive global economic confidence and boost economic growth and job creation.

Then he listed out some of the priorities that he sees. For example at the global level there needs to be better international policy coordination. He talked of the need to restructure global economic institutions which is an ongoing process, but has stalled for some time. He felt that these need to be implemented quickly. This is about the IMF, etc., on which there has been agreement in the G20 but it has not yet been implemented.

Then he suggested that what could be done among the BRICS countries, and the suggestion he made was to consider a possible virtual centre for infrastructure amongst the BRICS, and it could be accessible to all countries, it could be a hub for sharing information, sharing innovative practices, policies, technologies, and also guidance and advice. It is like a best practices group which can share opportunities and practices so that others can learn. His basic difference from previous other approaches to this is that it could be done digitally or virtually rather than in terms of having structures of a concrete nature for this. In this context he also said that apart from physical infrastructure we need also to focus on digital infrastructure because he is a strong votary of the future belonging to digital technology.

When he talked of infrastructure also he talked of next generation infrastructure, that is climate-resistant infrastructure, that is infrastructure which will help convert waste into inputs for infrastructure, clean energy, energy efficiency, etc.

PMalso laid quite a lot of emphasis on the need for close coordination to address the issue of unaccounted money which is kept abroad. He felt that its repatriation was a key priority for his government given that it also has not only economic implications but also security-related implications and challenges.

I think broadly these were the issues that were covered in his closed-door remarks to the BRICS. This was an informal meeting. So, it is an exchange of ideas and thoughts. Like we said yesterday, Prime Minister is keen to focus on issues that were highlighted previously. Last night he had taken this up with Japan and today he took this up in the BRICS format. I am certain when he is going to address tomorrow, if there are issues on his address which are falling under the themes like these, those will also be repeated and addressed to the G20. But we are still working on when he would get an opportunity to address again in a session of the G20. He will speak tomorrow and we will take it from there.

What he spoke today was for the BRICS and for the G20 in a closed format. There is an open format session also where the views will come on record. And so, tomorrow we are trying to work out what is the best possible opportunity for him to make an intervention and he will make that intervention. That was about his intervention at the BRICS.

Following that, as I said, he did participate in this session called the Retreat. His focus was, as I said, on reforms, his experience of reform, and his vision for reform. The principal theme which he focused in his intervention was reform, experience and thrust forward. It was largely at a conceptual level with concrete examples given from his own experience of how he felt reforms need to be proceeded with.

Some of the major issues that he mentioned were that reform cannot be doneby Stealth. He said that one of the clear lessons that all reformers need to understand is that reform has to be people driven and people centric. He felt that most reform efforts are done in a manner that it isby stealth. Given the needs of the present age, it is best to do these reforms taking people into account, taking their wishes into account, and being driven by people. Therefore, he said that it also needs to address the major causes or impediments rather than try and be small in nature.

So, he talked of reform being large scale, reform addressing root causes. And in this connection he did give an example of water and power, and the link between water and power for reform measures. That is because there have been examples where due to water scarcity in some states electricity is provided for agricultural purposes because cheap electricity is a substitute for availability of easy water. He said that if you provide water, then perhaps you do not need to go down the route of cheap electricity.

I think today in the intervention by the Australian Prime Minister he also referred to this example or this theme that the Prime Minister had said that you need to address root causes so that reform can be substantive, it can be long lasting. If you touch only the surface, that reform will not be substantial or long lasting.

Then he said of course there is bound to be resistance to change and resistance to reform and, therefore, efforts should be made to insulate reform process from political pressures. He also added that reform process should lead to simplification of processes and it should lead by itself to reform of governance mechanisms and governance processes.

He also felt that reform should be institutionalised, it should not be individual centric, etc., because if reform has to proceed rapidly it can only be if there is an atmosphere where reform is seen as an institutionalised mechanism whereby everybody is committed to it rather than a group or an individual etc.

Of course there were other themes that he emphasised on that the reform should be technology driven, it should be multi stage etc. But again if I have to summarise this whole thing, this was a personal vision that he outlined based on his own experience of how reform works and his thinking of how he is going to take the reform process forward in India. I think that is about what I can say on that matter.

Then he had two bilateral meetings. The first meeting was with President Hollande and the next was with Prime Minister of Canada. Again this is the firsttime PM was meeting them– President of France and the Prime Minister of Canada – and therefore they were largely introductory in nature. But in both cases he has received invitations. These follow telephonic conversations that both have had with him previously.

Both these invitations he has indicated that he has accepted, he is keen to travel to both these countries and will do so next year. These dates will be worked out. Perhaps it may be in the same trip together, maybe some other time, but we will work those out depending on the schedule. But it is likely to be in the first half of next year.

With France and Canada again the common theme was on concerns regarding terrorism. Both France and Canada are facing these challenges, and Prime Minister did convey his condolences to the Prime Minister of Canada about the attack on the Canadian Parliament. He said that while he was sad for the loss of lives, he was happy that Canada was able to ensure that there was no majorescalation. There was a general exchange of views of can there be possibilities of trying to work together in these issues. And there was receptivity in both the countries on this theme. As I have said before, yesterday also this was a theme which had come up in these meetings and today also it did come up. And the general feeling of receptivity and resonance was clearly evident.

They also discussed possible areas of economic cooperation. They did not go into the details. If any of you would want to know whether specifically theRafaledeal was discussed, it was not discussed. But they discussed in general possibilities of taking the economic relationship forward. In the case of Canada Prime Minister did indicate that he considers good relations with Canada a priority for his Government. The Canadian Prime Minister indicated that as part of his election campaign he had listed comprehensive economic agreement with India as one of the issues in the manifesto, and he hoped that this could be done at the earliest. He also said that it was almost ready, again there were some issues which stalled its culmination previously.

The Prime Minister assured him that he was committed and he indicated that there would be progress and there would be tangible progress on this matter. The discussions have again begun between the negotiators. The Prime Minister assured him that he was fully aware that there was a need to try and bring this to an early conclusion.

I think broadly those were the issues that were covered. I may have forgotten some oftheothersmall elements. But that is what was today. Tomorrow Prime Minister will meet Chancellor Merkel first thing in the morning at 9 o’clock. After that he will participate in the plenary session of the G20 where he is expected to speak. Following that he will also have a meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister Mr. Mariano Brey.

The timing is not certain, it will depend on availability of slots, etc. I cannot give you an indication of the time. But it is sometime between, I would think, 11 and 12. There is no certainty, it could be 10:30 also depending on how long people speak. Although the Australian Prime Minister is keen that everybody limits their presentation, sometimes it takes longer.

After that of course the Prime Minister has an agenda which is outside the G20 because the G20 should be concluding by tomorrow afternoon. Then he will be visiting the Roma Street Parkland for the unveiling of the Gandhi statue. That is scheduled at 4:30 pm tomorrow. Following that there is a call by the Premier of Queensland Mr. Campbell Newman. Mr. Newman and the Prime Minister know each other very well. They have had occasions to interact in the past. There is then going to be a civic reception by the Premier of Queensland and the Lord Mayor of Brisbane for Prime Minister at the City Hall.

These are broadly the issues that I have for you. I am available for any questions that you may like to ask.

Question:In the backdrop of the Chinese aggression we are getting reports that the Chinese army or the Chinese PLA are training the Pakistani army now. Will this be raised in some manner there with the Chinese President or will this come under discussion anywhere?

Official Spokesperson: Aditya, if you get reports I would think that we have the National Security Advisor here he who would be getting reports which are perhaps much more reliable than any other reports that other people are getting. The National Security Advisor is here to advise the Prime Minister. This morning Prime Minister met President Xi Jinping. There was no such issue that the Prime Minister’s attention was drawn to by the National Security Advisor. Still tomorrow there are occasions where both the leaders would meet. But the point is that I think what you know may not be what may be reliable and information which has been gleaned from correct sources and available to the National Security Advisor.

Question:You spoke about the interaction between our Prime Minister and President Obama. Anything about that meeting, anything specific?

Official Spokesperson: It is a quaint story. Let me try and recollect. Prime Minister is a great advocate of the Smart City concept. While he was researching this issue of smart cities, he came across the story of an architect and designer Mr. Walter Burley Griffin. Walter Burley Griffin is an American. He was born in Chicago, and that is where the Obama connect comes. As you know, President Obama is from Chicago.

Walter Burley Griffin, however, made name for himself as the architect who designed Canberra which is the capital of Australia. That is the connect between Walter Burley Griffin, Chicago and Australia. Walter Burley Griffin apart from having a thriving practice in Australia also spent the last 15 months of his life in India. He was in Lucknow and he is supposed to have designed some buildings in the Lucknow University. He then passed away in India and is buried in a Christian cemetery in Lucknow.

Prime Minister when he was doing this research came across this very interesting story of an architect who has designed a city like Canberra which is a very eco-friendly city. When you go there you will realise it, it is also a city which is well organised, well planned, something akin to the smart city that Prime Minister himself has been thinking of. That is how the vision of a smart city, a Chicagoan who made a name for himself in Australia and lies buried in India came up. So, Prime Minister did share this thought with Prime Minister Abbott and the two of them together shared this with President Obama. The pictures are there for you to see that they were extremely animated and excited about this link which is more than a 100 years old. But it is a very strong bond between open societies when people move from one place to another and find themselves doing well in different places. That is the theme that Prime Minister did relate to the two of them and it seemed to have strucka chord.

Question:I just want to check on that bilateral meeting with the French President. In your tweet you said there is need for a coordinated global strategy in the fight against terror. Do you think it is a general promulgation or should it be seen in the context of a US-led campaign against the IS?

Official Spokesperson: I think India has been a victim of terror much prior to what you are talking of ever existed. Prime Minister has made this clear on several occasions, and he did make this clear again to President Hollande that we have been victims for more than three decades, and we understand these issues in a manner because of our sad experience of having to handle terror. We understand these issues and we could cooperate. This was also a similar theme that he mentioned to Prime Minister of Canada. And both of them felt that we were closer to difficult spots than they were. They did appreciate the difficulties we had gone through. They also acknowledged that it is necessary for all of us to work together without segmenting terror.

Question:Security is an issue top on the agenda of the G20 summit and we heard that leaders are trying to put an institution in place that would be over and above OPEC and IAEA. What is the stand of India on this?

Official Spokesperson: India is neither a member of OPEC nor of the IEA. IAEA is an international organisation with which I worked. So, I do not think there can be something above an international organisation which is related to atomic energy. I do not know what you are saying in terms of IAEA. But I presume you are saying IEA that is International Energy Agency. That is again a matterfor OECD to take a decision on. What do we have to say as a matter of foreign policy? These arecartels which are there in several commodity products and we are not into them.

Question:You said that PM raised the issue of unaccounted money with the leaders. Can you give us a sense what was the response from the other countries?

Official Spokesperson: Navin, I never try and respond to the detailsof the responses because the nuances are such it is best that they respond. Our position has always been that we would raise these issues, we will follow these issues, and we hope that, in a manner of speaking, this is a graduated, long-term process that we have launched on. And you have seen the seriousness that we have launched on yesterday, today, and if opportunities provide tomorrow also. We do not, as I told you yesterday also, expect an outcome in a day.

But our long-term goal is to have transparency which will ensure that for taxation purposesaccount information isavailable so that we can have a look at accounts of any of our nationals outside India and whether there are any tax evasionissues and Prime Minister for the first time today has also added a security dimension to that.

Question:Can you give us specific details about the agreement on trade facilitation? The WTO says it might go through soon.The Congress is saying that Modi Government has compromised on India’s core requirements on food security. Can you shed some light on what the deal is?

Official Spokesperson: Rahul, this is for the Ministry of Commerce because they are handling this matter. The Minister in charge did make a statement on this. Obviously nobody will give you all the nitty-gritty of a proposal which is as yet not finalised because this has to be approved by the WTO Council. This is an understanding only between India and the US. Let me add to you today, yesterday I told you how many were supportive, again both the meetings today that PM he received support for this process. So, as far as we can see it, the world seems to be very supportive of this process.

Question:Have we stepped back at all from our fundamental position?

Official Spokesperson: Rahul, you will get the answer to it. I do not think we stepped back, in fact we stepped forward. As far as we see it, we stepped forward because previously there was a finite time and now there are issues that we are going to handle that we do not feel that this should be…(Inaudible)… on a longer term basis. There is a fact sheet put out by the United States. I would suggest that anyone who is interested should have a look at that. It will give you their perspective of it. That perspective clearly indicates that there is no way in which we have stepped back. In fact if there is something that I can summarise, we have stepped forward.

Question:In G20 there is overall commitment that the players should strive to increase their growth by an additional two per cent. For that it requires every country to put forward a plan of reform of how they achieve this additional two per cent. So, what has India said?

Official Spokesperson: I mentioned to you I will request the Sherpa Mr. Suresh Prabhu to come and meet you all tomorrow and he has kindly agreed. We will try and work out a slot tomorrow where he can meet you and brief you in specific details. He will be the best person to respond to that.

With that we come to the end of this interaction. Thank you very much.

(Concluded)

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