Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good evening friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon despite it being sandwiched between a weekend and a festive occasion. My belated festive greetings to all of you, but work has to go on. So I am grateful that all of you have come here for this weekly interaction.
I have here with me my colleague, Joint Secretary (South), Mr. Sanjay Bhattacharyya who is well known to you. Given that we will be focusing on an area of his expertise I requested him to be here so that he can respond to any issues that you may have when we complete the announcement and the briefing on that.
I have one announcement to make following which, as usual, the floor will be open for you to ask any questions on that announcement. After that if there are any areas of interest to you, we will try and respond to that. The announcement that I have relates to an incoming visit.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam will be on a state visit to India on 27th and 28th of October. India and Vietnam relations have been characterised by high-level exchange of visits. This is the VietnamesePrime Minister’s third visit to India. He was previously here in 2007 and in 2012.
During his visit in 2007, you are aware that we had issued the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership with Vietnam. In 2012 he came here as part of the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit that we had in New Delhi. You are also aware that President Mukherjee visited Vietnam last month. Prior to that, also last year, we had the General Secretary of Vietnamese Communist Party visiting India. So, there is a tradition of exchange of high-level visits and this visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister comes in that context.
Our ties with Vietnam are robust and growing. Our trade with Vietnam during 2013-14 was about USD 8 billion registering a growth of over 30 per cent over the previous year. Our exports to Vietnam are about USD 5.4 billion, and the imports are about USD 2.6 billion. Those of you who follow this very carefully are aware that we had set a target of USD 7 billion bilateral trade to be achieved by 2015, which we have exceeded well in advance.
Investment by Indian companies in Vietnam total approximately USD 1 billion. These include investments in agrochemicals, in IT, in oil and gas, mineral exploration and agricultural processing. You are aware that we had indicated some time ago that the Tata Power had succeeded in its bid for a thermal power plant which is 660×2 MW sometime ago.
India has extended 18 LoCs to Vietnam covering about 90 plus projects. We offer 150 ITEC scholarships and 40 other scholarships every year to Vietnam. We have also set up a number of capacity-building institutions in IT, in English language training, in vocational training, and in entrepreneurial development.
India and Vietnam have excellent cooperation in international fora. You are aware that Vietnam has supported India’s permanent membership in an expanded UN Security Council.
Cultural linkages form an important aspect of our relationship. In fact reflecting this cultural linkage the Vietnamese Prime Minister will first travel to Bodh Gaya before he comes to Delhi. Also, we are discussing with Vietnam the possibilities of the Archaeological Survey of India helping in restoration of conservation of some Cham monuments in My Son. An Indian cultural centre is also being planned to be opened in Hanoi. And we are in discussion to work out possibilities of exchange of cultural content or content for Vietnamese TV stations.
Vietnam will also be the country coordinator for India in the ASEAN starting from 2015, and this is one other aspect of our growing relationship.
In the defence sector we have an ongoing programme of exchanges, training and capacity building between our defence and security establishments.
I will just give you a little bit of the programme before I wrap it up and ask Sanjay to add anything else he would like to add. The programme for the visit includes of course the visit to Bodh Gaya and the meeting with the Chief Minister of Bihar there on 27th. On 27th evening itself the Vietnamese Prime Minister will come over the Delhi.
On 28th, his programme will begin with a forecourt ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan following which he will visit Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi, and the visiting dignitary will have a series of calls. As usual, theExternal Affairs Minister will call on him, and so will the Speaker of Lok Sabha.Prime Minister and the visiting dignitary will have meetings in Hyderabad House – these will be both in restricted format as well as delegation-level talks – following which the Prime Minister will host a banquet for him. In the evening he will also call on the Vice-President and the President of India before he departs.
We see this visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister to India as an opportunity to consolidate further and strengthen our relationship with one of our strongest and most friendly partners in the ASEAN.
I will stop at this and I will ask Sanjay to add something additional to this following which we will open the floor for any questions that you may have.
Joint Secretary (South) (Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya):Thank you Akbar.
You have already heard about the broad outline of the visit, our bilateral cooperation as well as the programme. I wish to highlight the fact that this visit comes at a very interesting time. This is a time when on the economic front both India and Vietnam are poised for sustained and high levels of economic growth, and also a time when Asia has emerged as the centre of global economic recovery.
At the regional level, we in India are working towards closer integration with ASEAN and, therefore, there are new opportunities that come up in the ASEAN as well as the bilateral context. The Spokesman has already mentioned that Vietnam will be the ASEAN coordinator for India for 2015 to 2018, and this would see greater possibilities for our deeper engagement with the ASEAN.
I also wanted to mention a little bit about the architecture under which this relationship is conducted. This is a very solid and robust relationship. As the Spokesman mentioned, we established the strategic partnership seven years ago in 2007, and we have high-level exchanges every year. The institutional architecture of this is based on the dialogue process at the Ministerial level with the Joint Commission, and we have sectoral Working Groups in virtually every important area. And we also have an architecture of key agreements in the defence, security, economic and cultural spheres. So the architecture that helps this particular relationship go forward is also very robust.
Finally I just wanted to mention about what is so special and unique about this visit. I think the big focus, we have a very strong and mature political defence, security understanding and relationship. We have a strong growing cultural relationship. The Spokesman referred to the Cham monuments that the ASI will be working on, the content that we are working on for sharing in the media, in the TV, exchange of films, youth exchanges. But I think the real big focus of this visit is really the economic engagement. We have exceeded our target in trade ahead of schedule. But we see the potential to do even better much more realisable today. And the reasons that I said about the regional context bring this more into focus.
So in this particular visit, quite clearly the economic engagement will be the top priority. Our aim is to make this a strong pillar of our partnership. Vietnam is keen to diversify its economic base, and this provides a window of opportunity for both the countries to expand and diversify this economic engagement.
As the Spokesman mentioned, Prime Minister Dung will be accompanied by a 50-strong business delegation. So they will be having the Business Forum which is going to be conducted by CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM on the 27th.There is already strong cooperation in the oil exploration sector. This is an ongoing one, it has matured very well. But we wish to see much closer cooperation in other areas.
We have worked together to identify some of the key areas in which we can take our trade engagement further, and I can specify these for you. These would be: in textiles and the entire range of textiles, in chemicals including in dies and agrochemicals, in machinery there is great interest in the Vietnamese side in importing more machinery from us including textile machinery, leather and footwear, and also in services such as finance, tourism and IT. These are some of the focal areas that we have already exchanged notes on and agreed that will be the items of discussion when our business sectors get together on the 27th.
As you know perhaps, the Bank of India has been working in Vietnam for some time now and they are expected to get an upgradation to a full Branch status very soon.
The Spokesman also mentioned about the commencement of flights between India and Vietnam. Jet Airways is going to start flights on the 5th of November between Mumbai, Delhi and Ho Chi Minh city. And Vietnam Airlines is going to start flights between Vietnam, particularly Hanoi and New Delhi in 2015.
A word about the investments. I think there has been significant discussion on this and there has been progress on this. Our companies today recognise that as ASEAN integrates and we move towards the ASEAN Economic Community – and let us not forget that Vietnam is negotiating the TPP which will bring them closer in harmony with the Pacific partnership – those Indian companies that establish a presence in Vietnam will actually have a huge advantage in this new integrated Asia and also in the Pacific partnership. And so there are some of those discussions that are taking place.
Infrastructure is a key area. Some of our infrastructure majors are discussing, Spokesman mentioned about Tata Energy’s big project which has already been awarded. There are others who are looking at other energy projects. We have recently concluded an agreement for the 30-year management of the Ha Long-Hai Phong highway. Hai Phong as you know is a major port of Vietnam. And a 30-year commitment shows the interest to have a long-term presence in Vietnam, and this is something that the Vietnamese business appreciates very well.
We are also looking at other BOT and PPP projects. Vietnam has recently launched these initiatives in many of our companies. Particularly many Singapore-based Indian companies are looking at these opportunities. Vietnam has set up a number of industrial parks which are either industry specific or country specific, and our business is looking at some of these opportunities as well.
We are also looking at extension of greater credit facilities. So, the buyer’s credit under the National Export Insurance Account has been made available to the Vietnamese.
To conclude I would once again highlight the importance of this multifaceted relationship that we have with Vietnam. But the particular potential that we wish to realise is in terms of economic engagement during this particular visit.
Official Spokesperson:The floor is now open for any questions that you may have.
Question:In view of the fact that we have already attained the target set for 2015 last year, are you working on any new targets by the year 2020 of 20 billion dollars or something like that?
Official Spokesperson:We are working on those targets and those targets will be decided by thePrime Minister’s when they meet.
Question:Are there any bilateral maritime exercises being planned with Vietnam on the naval side?
Joint Secretary (South): Not that I am aware of.
Question:Since this visit is taking place barely a month after the President’s visit to Vietnam, taking off from there what specific progress or outcome can we expect in other key areas, apart from economic, like defence or civil nuclear cooperation?
Official Spokesperson: Manish, I think it is rather an unfair question to ask. After he specified clearly that the focus of this visit is on economic cooperation and other areas will continue to be dealt with in due course. We have highlighted for you upfront that our key focus in this visit is going to be economic, and we expect progress on that front. Now if you pick up other areas, there has been progress on those areas just a month ago. So, what do you expect? That every time we have a meeting you would have across-the-board progress on everything? I think that is unfair to ask. We have made it very clear that the key focus this time is going to be economic.
Question:India has offered Vietnam a line of credit for purchase of defence equipment. What kind of equipment will India be giving?
Joint Secretary (South):You are right, we concluded the Defence LoC for USD 100 million during the visit of President last month. This is currently under discussion for its implementation. We will see progress on this as the negotiations continue between the Vietnamese and key defence suppliers.
Question:Will the Chinese concerns be an impediment in India accepting Vietnam’s offer for participation in more oil exploration blocks in the South China Sea?
Official Spokesperson: Vietnam has offered us some blocks in the South China Sea, we are examining it. If they are commercially viable for us, certainly we will take those into account and proceed further. India and Vietnam relationship is not contingent on other countries. Our relationship is a bilateral one and we are focused on those bilateral aspects of our relationship.
If there are no further questions on this, we will move on to other issues now.
Question:There was that resolution that was passed by the Pakistan National Assembly yesterday. What is India’s stand on that? Does this sort of not help in creating the atmosphere really for dialogue because there is a SAARC Summit also upcoming where the two Prime Ministers might be together?
Official Spokesperson: Resolutions passed by Parliaments are what one can say to be internalisation processes. Therefore, why should we have any problem with any internalisation process in any country? This is for that country to take a view on and to approach it as regards its domestic audience. As regards any issues relating to an international nature, we have given our views on that that we do not see any option of any third party being involved in this. Therefore, as far as internationalisation is concerned, we are against it. As far as internalisation is concerned, this is for Pakistan to sort itout for itself .
Question:Last week the Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka had visited India. This visit happened after our Defence Secretary Mathur’s visit to Sri Lanka. Shall we know the outcome of this visit?
Official Spokesperson: Defence Secretary’s visit needs to be addressed to appropriate people who are his host, in this case the Ministry of Defence. So, I would suggest that you address this question there.
Question:This is a related question. There were reports that Sri Lanka’s Northern Province Chief Minister Vigneswaran is expected here around 9th. Is it correct?
Official Spokesperson: That is rather an unfair question to ask me that Sri Lankan Northern Province Chief Minister is coming, is he coming on an official visit. My answer to that is, my understanding is that he has been invited by an organisation, which you know as well as I know. Why are you asking me that question from a government perspective? If he is coming at the invitation of a nongovernmental organisation or another organisation, I think you need to address that question to them.
Question:A Pakistani group is organising a rally in London on Sunday on the Kashmir issue. The rally is taking place despite India taking up the issue with the British Government. The External Affairs Minister had in fact taken up the issue with the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain during her visit. So, your comments, Sir.
Official Spokesperson: We have seen these reports of the so-called million march. We are a country of a billion; a million march does not overawe us. That said, pluralist democraciesand open societies have platforms which sometimes are misused by those who are enemies of pluralism. It is possible that forces inimical to India-UK relations may utilise opportunities of this sort. It was in this context that we discussed with the UK, and we were reassured repeatedly that the UK’s view is very clear and that it is for India and Pakistan to resolve any issues that they have by themselves. With that reassurance we are quite comfortable of any march that is being organised be it a so-called million march because, as I said, we are a country of a billion, a million does not overawe us, millions also will not overawe us.
Question:India has joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member. What interests of the country would be served by this as a founding member?
Official Spokesperson: You would appreciate that joining any organisation will only be done if it serves our interest. India has huge interest in infrastructure development for our infrastructural needs are immense. Therefore if we can leverage our membership in any organisation that will help our developmental needs, we will certainly look at that. And it is in that context that we have a look at various developmental organisations which provide funding for developmental purpose.
Question:In one of the past briefings you confirmed to us that Bangladesh Government has given anote verbale asking for a report on the Burdwan blast. Has the report been sent to them or is it being prepared?
Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much. I did say that and after that you also heard some of our organisations say that they had received a communication to that effect from the Ministry of External Affairs. Since then we have not received the report. Whether it is being prepared or it is still being formulated or it is being thought of, I cannot answer that question. But, we expect a report which we will factor into our response to the Bangladesh Government, which is a friendly governmentandwith which we have cooperation on a wide variety of issues including security-related issues.
Question:Pakistan is off and on saying that ceasefire violations are taking place from the Indian side, and this is one of the bases on which they are going to UN also. What is your stand, what is your reaction on this?
Official Spokesperson: I think we have made it very clear from the first day and I do not want to repeat it. Our view is that it is for Pakistan tomoveto a situation where we can have an atmosphere conducive for talks. Therefore, our view is very clear that we are ready for a bilateral dialogue under the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. But that requires an atmosphere which is conducive for talks. The ball, therefore, is in Pakistan’s court.
Question:Akbar, aisi ummeed jataayi jaa rahi thi ki Nepal mein India aur Pakistan ki baat-cheet ho sakti hai bilateral. Uske upar koi jaankaari denge?
Official Spokesperson:Abhi toh hum Nepal mein joh SAARC ka summit hai uske agenda ke baare mein final decision nahin liye hain. Agar aap logonkokisi ne kaha toh mujhe pata nahin hai, main ne kabhi kuchh nahin kaha is baare mein. Ya kisi aur official pravakta ne is baare mein kuchh nahin kaha. Yeh toh bus aap log apne aap ka man bahlaane ke liye kuchh bhi kehte hain, main iske baare mein kaise tippani karun?
Question:It is not an issue of MEA but the question is, serious epidemic Ebola is spreading from country to country and the WHO report also is here. Is there any role from your side? Or is it entirely the Health Ministry’s concern?
Official Spokesperson: There are two aspects of it – one is an international aspect and one is an aspect relating to public health in India. As regards the international aspect, you are aware that India is amongst those who had first announced major contribution in the international effort in this context. We have as of now announced more than USD 12.5 million commitment to tackle the Ebola virus. These are through WHO for (a) relating to equipment etc., (b) for assisting the WHO; and finally we are ready to work with the international community in terms of finding a vaccine for that.
Number two, we also have indicated that we are willing to work further on this and we are in consultation with various countries on how best the international community can take this forward. And you will see that there are references about our international cooperation in the declaration that was issued after Prime Minister met President Obama.
If there are no further questions, thank you very much.