Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to Australia and Fiji

Secretary (East): Prime Minister will pay a bilateral visit to Australia from 16-18 November 2014 (after G-20 Summit). This will be the first PM visit to Australia since 1986 and the second meeting between the two PMs this year (Abbott visit last September saw four agreements signed on Civil Nuclear Cooperation, Sports, Skills and Water). PM will have delegation level talks with PM Tony Abbott and address the Parliament in Canberra, have political, business and community meetings in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne (Abbott will host dinner). A number of agreements will be signed and announcements made on initiatives. A strong delegation of CEOs will accompany PM to highlight the economic interests.

PM’s visit will be an important landmark in re-engaing Australia and its business and Indian communities and also to strengthen contacts in the Pacific region, which will be fortified by the visit to Fiji on 19 November, 2014.

India and Australia share a strategic partnership based on shared beliefs; overlapping economic interests, especially in the resource sector; and people-to-people contacts. India has grown as a factor in Australian policy making, facilitated by economic engagement, flow of skilled migrants from India and our growing profile in the emerging Asian and global architecture. For us too, there are growing complimentaries in supply of resources, particularly energy, our enterprises have investments and they host a growing population of persons of Indian origin, including students.

Australia is a major source of coal, gold, copper, diamond and can emerge as a source of uranium and gas. Indian investments in the resources sector in Australia have grown over time, totalling over US $ 10 billion. We have obtained a long-term stake for gas in the Gorgon field of Australia. The negotiations on the Administrative Arrangements for Civil Nuclear Energy are proceeding smoothly and this will open the way for trade in uranium with Australia. There is interest in Australia to engage in our mining sector.

On the economic front, our trade in goods declined from US$ 17.5 billion in 2011-12, to US$ 12.5 billion in 2013-14. To address this we seek to (i) conclude a mutually beneficial CECA at an early date, (ii) hold a Make in India Show 2015 in Australia and (iii) reconstitute CEO Forum to step up economic engagement. We are also looking at greater flow of services, including IT, investments, tourism.

Our political engagement is strong with annual summits, including in margins of multilateral events and regular dialogue. We have close cooperation on regional issues, especially in EAS, G-20 and IORA. Our defence cooperation is growing and we hold the first bilateral maritime exercise in 2015, continue training, regular exchanges and R&D. We shall also be working together on World War I commemorative events, including on Gallipoli. On security issues, we have good working relations in counter-terrorism and transnational crimes. We have finalised text of Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons and MOU on Combating Narcotics which will help our common efforts.

Education and S&T are progressive areas of cooperation. The Strategic Research Fund, which has been successful in promoting joint projects has been extended by 4 years. PM will visit some projects in Brisbane. The Water Partnership has also been extended and we are exploring opportunities in the Ganga project. The cooperation in mining and geology technology has also yielded favourable results. We are exploring close coordination, including collaboration for Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad with Australian partners.

The flow of Indian students has picked up to over 36,000, with more going for higher education, although the majority are still in vocational training. We are promoting joint research, joint degrees and collaboration between universities. Our IITs and IIS already have strong collaboration. Cooperation in skills training is mainly in the private sector and has been useful in upgrading levels in mining, health and hospitality and for overseas assignments. We are exploring cooperation for a Sports University and training. Australia has contributed $ 1 million to Nalanda University for a Chair on Environmental and Ecology Studies. Australian has launched the New Colombo Plan for India to commence in 2015.

The population of persons of Indian origin in Australia has grown over the years and is currently over 450,000. Last year, India contributed the largest share of technically qualified migrants to Australia, overtaking China for the first time. PM will have a major event with the Indian community in Sydney. We are establishing a Cultural Centre in Sydney. We plan to have a Festival of India in 2015 to step up cultural diplomacy.

PM visit will be an opportunity to deepen the partnership through discussions on regional issues, expanded economic cooperation, energy security, people-to-people contacts and engaging our diaspora. India’s growth and emergence on the world stage is welcomed in Australia.

PM’s visit to Fiji is taking place after a gap of 33 years. Indira Gandhi was the last PM to visit Fiji in 1981. PM’s visit is an opportunity to re-establish contacts with the new Government in Fiji, express solidarity with the Indo-Fijian community, expand on our development cooperation programme and reach out to the Pacific community. PM’s visit will have three components – meeting with PM and address to Parliament, meeting with Pacific leaders and meeting with local Fiji community.

With the recent elections in Fiji, this is an opportunity to deal with Fiji as a democratic nation. Moreover, this will also give strength to our approach to deal with Fiji as the hub of the Pacific region.

Fiji held democratic elections on 17 September, 2014 which ended the period of an interim Government established by a military coup. Bainimarama was elected PM with a big mandate. India supported the election process by providing indelible ink and training; we also participated in the Multilateral Observer Group (MOG) as co-Chair (with Australia and Indonesia). The MOG in its interim report after the elections held that the elections were credible and results broadly reflected the will of the people of Fiji.

India’s linkages with Fiji go back to 1879 when Indian labour was brought here under the indenture system to work on sugarcane plantations. Between 1879 and 1916 around 60,000 Indians were brought to Fiji. By early 20th century, Indian traders and others had also started arriving in Fiji.

Our bilateral trade in 2013 was $ 51 million with India’s exports being $ 49 million and imports $ 1.9 million. Our development assistance to Fiji is considerable. We have supported the upgradation and modernization of the sugar factories, which are the mainstay of the agricultural community. We are now embarking on a co-generation plant to improve efficiency. Our technical assistance has improved productivity and enhanced the value of the sugar produced.

Fiji also looks for support in health, education, agriculture and other areas. Fiji sources medicines from India and could become our hub for the Pacific. Similarly, medical facilities provided by Indian assistance at the Commonwealth Hospital, Dialysis Centres and PPP Hospitals by Sahyadri and potential collaboration with Appolo. Our ITEC programme is greatly appreciated and many students come from Fiji. Agriculture cooperation in rice, coconut, dairy etc. will be helpful. Similarly, we can collaborate on IT, tourism and solar energy. Fiji provided cooperation India in implementing our space programme and helped our monitoring team for the Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission.

The great distance from India has its own challenges. We are looking at ways to improve connectivity and visa facilitation. This would be of great interest to other island countries in the south Pacific region who use Fiji as a hub.

India and Fiji have much in common. The visit to Fiji will be an opportunity to share experiences on democracy and inclusive society in a pluralistic society. Fiji is the major country in the south Pacific region where each island country has also been supporting India’s candidature for a permanent seat with respect to UNSC.

The meeting of Pacific Island Leaders will bring together all 14 island countries in a first ever summit with India. We hope to make this a regular process to improve dialogue and cooperation. India and the Pacific Islands share similar challenges of climate change but also have great opportunities for cooperation in our development efforts. We have been participating in UN related bodies as well as in the Pacific region for a with the island states and we share a warm understanding. They look forward to our leadership role and support for policy, development assistance and capacity building. The meeting will help develop new initiatives and a roadmap for our joint efforts.

Question: Sir, can you please give us an update on the agreement on narcotics with Australia?

JS(South): As Secretary has mentioned, there are a number of agreements that we hope to conclude, the narcotics is one such.

Question: Can you please elaborate?

JS(South): It is for collaboration in combating the flow of narcotics and psycotropic substances to strengthen contact between Narcotics Control Bureau of India and its counterpart in Australia to set up nodal points. This is the kind of collaboration that we have with several other countries in the region as well.

Question: Are any talks likely on the issue of bringing Australia to join the India-US-Japan trilateral?

Secretary (East): This is one of the subjects that had been raised earlier as well and I think it will come up for discussion again. We have no complete understanding as yet on what that would involve. So, it is only after we talk about it that we can have a decision on it. But I expect that it will also come up for discussions.

Question: By when do we expect the administrative arrangements to be completed?

Secretary (East): The administrative arrangements are an ongoing process. As you know, the negotiations on that text started after the signature of the MoU that we signed during the visit of Prime Minister Abbott. Of course we would hope to sign it as quickly as possible. But you know our rounds of negotiations are ongoing, and it also depends upon how quickly the principals in this case can meet. We are making good progress and we are on track.

Question: If I could just request, could just Mr. Wadhwa’s statement be uploaded immediately and not wait for the transcript? Thanks so much.

Coming to my question, you spoke about India-US-Japan-Australia quadrilateral. Will India’s concerns over navigating the South China Sea – the freedom of navigation as well as the airspace that had come up in the visit to Washington as well – come up in the bilateral meeting with Mr. Abbott?

Secretary (East):
This is a subject actually for the East Asia Summit. We are first going to have those meetings in Nay Pyi Taw after which we would be going to Australia for the G20 and then the bilateral. So, I presume that this subject would have been discussed threadbare already in Nay Pyi Taw where both countries are present. I suppose if at all the subject comes up for discussion it will be a reiteration of those discussions which we would have already had in Nay Pyi Taw.

Question: During last some years back or some months back there were many attacks on the Indian students studying in Australia. Is there any talk regarding the safeguard of the students and is there any agreement between India and Australia so far as education is concerned?

Secretary (East): Yes, I think there was a phase in which there was much concern about racist attacks on Indian students in Australia. Fortunately that phase is behind us. The incidents have tapered off almost to zero. The Australian authorities have taken some very concrete steps to ensure that these incidents are not repeated in the future. Some neighbourhood committees have been set up as well in areas which were supposed to be dangerous. At the same time there has been a revamp in the education system and recruitment as far as Australian universities and institutions are concerned. All this put together has made sure that we do not face this problem any longer. So, I suppose this is not an issue any longer between the two countries.

Question: Sir, you mentioned about a CEOs’ Delegation. Could we get some details on that? Like what happened in the US, is there any meeting with the industry and CEOs in Australia as well?

Secretary (East): There are a number of business meetings which are being organised where Prime Minister will attend, and the business delegation will be taking part in those events. At least four such events are slotted for the business community, for the business delegation.

Just to give you a few details, there is a meeting with Australian CEOs first of all which will happen in Melbourne, which will be followed by the Prime Minister’s address to Australian business leaders. In these meetings our business delegation will be included. Also, in Brisbane there is a reception by the Premier and in that reception the CEOs will also be included. Also when we move on to Melbourne, there is a civic reception which will be hosted by Prime Minister Abbott in the MCG. For that event also the CEOs’ delegation will be included. Of course also there is a G20 programme, and on the sidelines there is a B20 programme which is being organised. Some of these CEOs will also be taking part in those sessions. So, they have plenty to do.

Question: Sir, are Indian CEOs also accompanying the PM or only the Australian CEOs?

Official Spokesperson: It is not the practice for business delegations to go with the PM. However, as the Secretary said, they will be present in Australia and that is where they will interact with their Australian counterparts.

Question: Prime Minister will be going to MCG for the dinner. Can we expect that this time the schedule of visit of the Don Bradman Exhibition here in India will be finalised?

Secretary (East): There is a programme which has already been determined as far as the MCG is concerned. We expect that the trophies which are being played for between India and Australia in cricket would be on display. At the same time there are efforts on to get some prominent cricketers who have taken part in India-Australia series from both sides to be present. At the same time there would be a presentation of memorabilia which would be on permanent display thereafter at the MCG. All these steps are being taken currently and I think most of them will be through by the time this event takes place.

Question: Sir, you spoke about a major event that the Prime Minister will have with the Indian community in Sydney. Could you share more details about that, what this event is going to be like?

Secretary (East): This would be an event in the Allphones area in the Olympic Park. We expect at least 15,000 people to be present according to the organisers. The organisation of this event is in the hands of the Indian community which lives in Australia. So, we do not have all the details with us but we know that it is going to be an event with at least one and a half hours devoted to it. Of course there would be a speech by the Prime Minister. There would be also some speeches by others. At the same time there would be presence of local politicians in this event both from Australia and perhaps from outside as well. Those details have not been shared with us so far. This is all I have at the moment.

Question: Sir, is it possible to expand a little on any of the agreements that will be signed; or if not, just outline what Prime Minister Modi’s top priorities are in terms of the …(Inaudible)… get from the Israeli Government and …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): Give us one minute. I can take another question meanwhile. We will get back to you.

Question: Besides the agreements that would be in the offing, is there anything on smart cities tie-up, anything that we are looking at with an Australian city?

Secretary (East): Let me just quickly run through what the likely agreements are. One is as I mentioned the agreement on transfer of sentenced prisoners, the MoU on narcotics, a social security agreement, an MoU possibly on tourism, an MoU on cultural cooperation. And of course as far as the initiatives are concerned, we will be announcing a Festival of India in 2015, a Made in India show in 2015, the revamping of the CEOs’ Forum, the organisation of a Tourism Week.

To answer your question about smart cities, that cooperation with Australia is already ongoing. We have had some ideas which have already been exchanged. On this visit we will perhaps elaborate on that concept further. But along with smart cities there is also, as I said, an intention to take our talks on technology transfer, improvement of mining technology further, and at the same time to see if we can also have announcements related to security cooperation in different fields. So, that will depend on the talks that we have and it will be then reflected accordingly in the joint communiqué.

Question: What is the level of investments in each other’s countries at this point of time, the actual levels of investment, and what is the …(Inaudible)…

Secretary (East): As I said, our investment figure is about USD 11 billion in Australia and another USD 15 billion which is in the pipeline especially in the mining sector. The Australian investments in India are rather low in comparison – USD 600 million.

Official Spokesperson: If you have no further question on this, we can address some other questions.

Question: Sir, could you confirm if there were any talks between Prime Minister Modi and Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa on the issue of sentencing of fishermen and their transfer to India?

Official Spokesperson: The issue of the five Indian fishermen who have been sentenced by a lower court in Sri Lanka is a matter on which we place very high priority. It is also a matter on which we are exploring a variety of avenues to ensure that those citizens of India return to India safely. These avenues are being pursued in accordance with the Sri Lankan legal system and the Sri Lankan Executive’s role in the process. At this stage we have not reached a conclusion on the avenues that we are proceeding forward with.

It is a delicate matter. It is a matter which is ongoing and we are pursuing to the best of our abilities. Therefore, I would hate to tell you anything about a situation which is so delicate that it could adversely impinge on anything you or I say. That is where we are. I can confirm to you that we are pursuing it very diligently, we are pursuing all avenues, we are pursuing it to the best of our ability, and we have not reached a situation or a stage where we could say that this has reached a happy conclusion. Therefore, please provide us that time and space where we can pursue this and reach a conclusion that we can share with all of you for a happy ending to this difficult situation.

Question: Sir, Prime Minister ke Fiji se lautne ke baad aur Kathmandu jaane se pehle sirf chaar ya paanch din ka faasla rahega, sirf itne kum din bachenge. Main jaanna chahta hun ki kya Kathmandu mein Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief se baat-cheet ki koi sambhavna hai ya hum abhi usi juncture par hain ki Foreign Secretaries ki baat-cheet nahin hui isliye donom Pradhan Mantriyon ki baat-cheet nahin hogi Kathmandu mein?

Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye yeh toh aapka favourite savaal hai. Main jaanta hun ki jab bhi main aata hun yeh savaal aap karte hain. Mera javaab main har baar thodisi badal kar deta hun lekin aap toh vahi savaal puchhte hain.

Is savaal ka javaab yeh hai. The Kathmandu meeting is about SAARC and that meeting is approximately 16 days away. As they say, in politics a week is a long time. And in India-Pakistan relations, two weeks plus is a very very long time. You have heard our leaders talk about paving the path towards a process. If the path is paved, perhaps I can share with you some more details. You have heard even yesterday responses from our side.

At this stage all I can share with you is that we remain committed to paving a path. But for that path to be paved, you have to have a situation that will promote a path to be paved. We have not reached that stage as yet. Should we reach that stage, I will be happy to share extra information with you.

Question: Sir, I know it is very delicate and you are trying your best to sort of get somewhere. But since a tweet has already been made, just can you tell us one way or the other if Prime Minister spoke to the President of Sri Lanka?

Official Spokesperson: Shrinjoy, sometimes you ask me to respond to voices from the wilderness, sometimes you ask me to respond to tweets. If I have to respond to tweets, I have a twitter account and I would respond to that. I have just explained to you at length what the situation is. The situation does not warrant a tweet from me at this stage.

Question: Regarding the G20, if there is already some bilateral meetings on the sidelines …(Inaudible)… specifically regarding …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: Maria, I have some news for you and that is that we have finalised some bilateral meetings at the G20. Those meetings I will share with you now. These are with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Mr. David Cameron; the President of France Mr. Francois Hollande; the Prime Minister of Canada Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper; the Chancellor of Germany Ms Angela Merkel; and the Prime Minister of Spain Mr. Mariano Brey. We are still in a juggling act. As I mentioned to you, there are still slots available. We are working on that and if we are able to work out timings which are common to everybody, we will have. In addition to these, I may also add that it is usual for all the BRICS countries to have an informal meeting. Therefore, Prime Minister will be meeting his counterparts from all the BRICS countries in an informal get-together at Brisbane. However, this is not the final list. This is the list as it exists today. There are several more days to go. And we still have some slots which we are juggling with. We will provide that information once we can get confirmation from everybody on what the final list looks like. This is the list as it looks like for G20 now.

Question: Is the Indian High Commission appealing in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court regarding the fishermen’s issue today or tomorrow?

Official Spokesperson: I can tell you that the Indian High Commission has got the judgment from the Sri Lankan lower court. This judgment is more than 200 pages long. It is in Sinhalese. The lawyers are looking at it. The Indian High Commission has approached some of the best legal brains in Sri Lanka to have a look at it. And they are examining what would be the best avenue to proceed to ensure that those five Indian nationals who are fishermen and against whom a judgment has been decreed can be brought back home safely. As regards what is the best process, this is a work in progress. As I said to you, please give us that time. There is still time for an appeal and we will do everything possible to ensure the return of those five Indian fishermen in accordance with Sri Lanka’s legal and executive processes.

This is a question again on bilateral meetings of Prime Minister. With the Chinese President what are the possibilities?

Official Spokesperson: I think I will go more than what you have asked for. I told you that the Prime Minister will be meeting all his BRICS partners in an informal BRICS meeting at the G20. So the meeting with the Chinese President will be in an informal setting at the G20. However, I will also answer the question that you did not ask and that is the Prime Minister will also be meeting his Chinese counterpart Premier Li Keqiang at Nay Pyi Taw. So, he will be meeting both the Prime Minister of China as well as the President of China.

The meeting at Nay Pyi Taw is a more structured one with delegations being together. The meeting in Brisbane is an informal BRICS meeting where all the Heads of State meet along with their delegations. I am certain there will be opportunities for Prime Minister to discuss and meet President Xi Jinping there too.

Question: Sir, as we have already approached the Sri Lankan authorities about fishermen issue, what has been Sri Lanka’s response? Is it positive? Have they communicated anything to you? Are the signals positive?

Official Spokesperson: India and Sri Lanka have extremely cordial relations. We have a relationship where we are in regular touch with each other. We have a relationship in which both of us understand each other’s requirements, needs and concerns. Therefore, we understand each other well, we work well with each other. And you can be assured that any effort that we make with our good friends in Sri Lanka is always reciprocated positively.

If there are no more questions, we will call it a day. Thank you very much for being here this afternoon. Thank you.

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