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Transcript of Special briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s visit to Australia (May 24, 2023)

Posted on: May 23, 2023 | Back | Print

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good evening to all of you. Thank you very much for joining us this late hour here in Sydney. The Prime Minister has just arrived from Port Moresby. To give us a sense of last day or so, the last couple of days as well as the way ahead, we have with us Foreign Secretary sir Shri Vinay Kwatra. We are also joined by Shri Manpreet Vohra, High Commissioner of India to Australia, as well as Paramita Tripathi Joint Secretary for the Ministry of External Affairs looking after the Oceania division. Sir without further ado, may I hand over it to you.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much and good evening to friends from the media, as you can see we have just entered the hotel, straight touching down from Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Prime Minister arrived just a while ago on the third leg of his three nation tour. It has been absolutely packed visit so far with both bilateral and multilateral engagements about which we have spoken over the last couple of days. Just to share with you very briefly the sense of proceedings, the meetings, the discussions that happened between the Prime Minister of India and the 14 leaders of Pacific Island countries at the 3rd India-FIPIC summit, which was held in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Prime Minister arrived in Port Moresby late on Sunday night. This was the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. And in a very special gesture, Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea received the Honorable Prime Minister at the airport. Prime Minister also received 19 gun salute and a ceremonial guard of honor at the airport. Besides, a special tradition welcome reserved normally for the returning family members of that country was also accorded to the Honorable prime minister.

And today, Prime Minister co-hosted with Prime Minister James Marape, the third summit of the Forum for India Pacific Islands Cooperation, FIPIC. This is a unique platform that brings together India and 14 Pacific Island countries - Cook Islands, Fiji, Republic of Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Republic of Nauru, Republic of Palau, Papua New Guinea, where the summit was held, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. As you would all know and recall FIPIC was launched in Fiji in 2014 during Prime Minister’s visit to that country. It has helped deepen considerably our engagement, its scope, its breadth and its intensity with the PIC countries across various domains and as per priorities which are set by the FIPIC countries. Today's summit was an opportunity for the PIC leaders to share their views on regional priorities and interest and on engagements with India in their space. There was an overwhelming sense of goodwill towards India and appreciation about India's role and of its engagement in the region. Prime Minister's interventions have been already made available to you.

Among other things, he launched the Sustainable Coastal and Ocean Research Institute, SCORI, that is housed in the University of South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, and is supported by NCCR, the National Center for Coastal Research, Chennai. SCORI is designed to be an nodal center of excellence in coastal and ocean research and development, focusing on building capacity in some of the most pressing concerns and priorities of the Pacific region for the benefit of the people of the Pacific Island countries, such as the impact of climate change, about which pretty much every Pacific leader spoke in today's summit, on the marine ecosystem, marine pollution, coastal vulnerability to sea level rise, again, something which was very prominently underlying each of the PIC leaders, sea erosions, cyclones, and tsunamis.

He also launched DWEPIC or Data Warehouse for Empowering Pacific Island Countries, which has been developed by Indian Space Research Organization. DWEPIC portal hosts geospatial data sets and services, including satellite data, terrain data, climate and ocean thematic services, disaster services, and value-added services for access and utilization by the Pacific Island countries. This is part of the Space Technology Application Center that was announced by the Honorable Prime Minister in 2015.

Today, Prime Minister also announced a 12-step action plan to strengthen the India-PIC partnership. I will just enumerate key parts of that 12-step action plan. First, he announced a 100-bed regional super specialty hospital in Fiji; setting up of regional IT and cyber security training hub in Papua New Guinea; Sagar Amrit Scholarships, 1000 scholarships spread over the next five years, again, across the range of areas that are priority for the Pacific Island countries; Jaipur Foot Camp to be organized in Papua New Guinea in 2023 and thereafter two camps annually in various countries of the Pacific; FIPIC SME development project, was another key action point announced today; solarization project for government buildings across the Pacific Island countries; desalination units for drinking water; supply of sea ambulances to the countries of the Pacific Island; setting up of dialysis units; setting up of 24x7 emergency helpline; setting up of Jan Aushadhi Kendra, again, to make cost-effective and efficient pharmaceuticals available to the Pacific Island countries; and setting up of yoga centers.

On the bilateral side, Prime Minister held meetings with the PNG Governor General, Sir Bob Dadae, as well as with Prime Minister James Marape. They discussed ways and means to further strengthen their partnership across various sectors including particularly trade and investment, on matters relating to cooperation in the field of health, capacity building and skill development as also information technology. Documents on visa exemption for diplomatic and official passport holders as well as on holding foreign office consultations were also signed during the visit.

During today's meetings in Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister was also bestowed with the honor of the highest civilian award of Papua New Guinea, the Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu. This was conferred upon the Prime Minister by the Governor General in a special ceremony. Prime Minister and Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape also launched a translation of the Tamil classic 'Thirukkural' in the local Tok Pisin language. The book is co-authored by linguist Mrs. Subha Sasindran and Mr. Sasindran Muthuvel, Governor of West New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea. Prime Minister also had a bilateral meeting with His Excellency Mr. Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji. Discussion covered key sectors of cooperation including capacity building, health care, climate action, renewable energy, agriculture, education and information technology. On behalf of the Fijian President, His Excellency Mr. Ratu Wiliame Maivalili Katonivere, Prime Minister Rabuka bestowed Prime Minister Modi with the highest honor of the Republic of Fiji, the Companion of the Order of Fiji. Prime Minister Modi thanked the government and the people of Fiji for this honor and dedicated it to the people of India and to the generations of Fiji Indian community who have played a key role in the special and enduring bond between the two countries. Prime Minister also held brief meetings with other PIC leaders who attended today's summit.

On the sidelines of India FIPIC summit, Prime Minister also met with His Excellency Mr. Chris Hipkins, Prime Minister of New Zealand. The two leaders discussed ongoing bilateral cooperation initiatives and agreed to expand cooperation in various sectors, including trade and commerce, education, information technology, tourism, culture, sports and people to people ties. Before departure from Port Moresby, Honorable Prime Minister interacted with the alumni of the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation training courses from across Pacific Island countries. These included senior government officials, leading professionals and community leaders who have received training in India under ITEC. Since the last FIPIC Summit in 2015, India has trained close to 1,000 officials from all countries in this region. India has also sent experts on long-term deputation to agencies in these countries to assist them across various areas of economic activity.

Prime Minister will be in Sydney until Wednesday evening. During this period, this is just to give you a bit of outline of what lies ahead of the Prime Minister's visit to Australia, to Sydney. He will hold bilateral meetings with the Honorable Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese. Also call on Governor General David Hurley and a meeting with Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton. Prime Minister Albanese will also host a dinner for Prime Minister and during his upcoming two days of stay, Honorable Prime Minister will meet leading CEOs and also address the Indian community here. We will share more and detailed information on his visit, on his various engagements during his stay in Sydney over the course of couple of days. I would stop here and if there are questions, we'll try and answer them. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Before we open for questions, ground rule, please introduce yourself and the organization that you represent.

Sidhant: Sir, Sidhant from WION, how much is India's engagement with the Pacific countries important to India's vision of the Indo-Pacific, my first question. And second when it comes to meeting with the Australian Prime Minister how much focus will be the Khalistani extremism concern which India has raised publicly several times?

Manish Chand: Manish Chand, India Writes Network. So this FIPIC summit took place after a hiatus of eight years. Following this summit can we expect a more structured, more regular engagement? And my second question is, Pacific Island countries have become an arena for geopolitical rivalry. At this summit meeting, what kind of views, you know, what are the views of the leaders about India's role in the region? How do they look at it

Meghna Dey: Sir, in addition to Manish's question…

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: If you could introduce yourself.

Meghna Dey: Meghna Dey from DD News, sir when we're talking about this FIPIC summit that took place after a hiatus, I would like to know what in the discussions any subjects that have been taken up from the FIPIC one summit, and FIPIC two summit, anything that has been carried forward?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: You mean implemented? To be honest there are lots of issues… I will let Foreign Secretary answer that. Lot of issues of course have been and today what you saw, the implementation announcement.

Vishal Munga: I'm Vishal Munga from Aaj Tak. I just wanted to ask whether the Prime Minister would raise the issues of Hindu mandir being attacked here in Australia? Will it be raised tomorrow or whenever he meets the Prime Minister of Australia?

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much. In many ways, the questions that have been asked by my friends here - Sidhant's question on India's vision of the Indo-Pacific, Manish, your question on more structured engagement after the period of hiatus. Our colleague from the DD News also referred to the hiatus and issues from the previous FIPIC Summit. And the second set of questions relating to the scope of discussions during the next 48 hours of honorable Prime Minister’s stay here. Allow me to club these questions together because although these questions, they touch upon individual aspects of cooperation between India and the countries of the Pacific Island, it is important to position them in the composite frame in which India looks at its engagement with these countries. So, India's vision of the Indo-Pacific, for example, issues from the previous FIPIC summit, views of different leaders, in many ways they all triangulate together in terms of India's partnership, extensive partnership, and engagement individually with most of the countries of the FIPIC, but also with FIPIC as a regional collective. One important underlying element of India's vision of its engagement with the FIPIC partners is, India regards the countries of the FIPIC as very important members of the countries of the Global South. Those countries of the Global South which because of the geographical location that they are in have certain priorities which are relating to their own developmental objectives, have certain concerns which emanate out of problems of climate change, out of issues of the sea level rise, marine pollution, which was significantly mentioned. Overall capacity building activity in their societies and in their system so that the developmental goals which they have set for their populations are met. And all this is done in a manner which doesn't cause increasing indebtedness of the society. It is done preferably with a country which is reliable, which has a reputation of being very reliable, which they know would stay on for a long term. This would be the, I would say, overarching principles in which the composite frame of Prime Minister Modi's vision of India's engagement with FIPIC, got structured ever since the first summit, which was organized in 2014, and thereafter the second one later, and this being the third one. If you also look at the set of concerns and priorities which the FIPIC countries have, you would also find in many of these areas there are commonalities and I would even go step further and say there are complementarities. Complementarities sometimes of capacity and needs. Commonality also have the same challenges, which since India has multiple agro-climatic zones also faces similar challenges. So, whether these are issues of climate change, health security, capacity development and economic development.

So, when today, the leaders of the FIPIC countries spoke at the third FIPIC Summit, everybody was unanimous in regarding India as a reliable partner. As a reliable partner, which has democratic values. As a reliable partner with democratic values whose developmental template is such which doesn't structurally burden their economies. And at the same time, is able to match very well with one, the priorities which they set, not what India sets and two, that those priorities are harmonized with the kind of assistant template, assistance package that India and our partners with FIPIC together structured. So, for example, when the Prime Minister, Honorable Prime Minister made the announcement for a super specialty cardiology hospital, this was a demand which came from that country in Fiji. At the same time, this is also pretty much a felt need of the region. And Honorable Prime Minister clearly announced that this would be built entirely from the grant amount, which is to be given by government of India. Similarly, the other 11 points in his action plan which he announced today at the FIPIC summit have also been structured based on the same principle which is need clearly articulated by the countries of the FIPIC and a need clearly appreciated by the Honorable Prime Minister and combining the two apart for their implementation and execution decided as such.

In terms of periodic meetings of India and FIPIC countries, yes there has been a bit of a hiatus. But we all know the challenges that the entire world has gone through in recent years, including particularly of pandemic. It is Prime Minister's clear vision, and a clear priority that engagement with FIPIC countries would be regular, will be structured and will take place with increasing frequency, with individual countries of the FIPIC and also collectively with the region.

Coming to the two points, which were mentioned, one by Sidhant on the Khalistan issue and one by Mr. Munga on the question of the temples. Look, it is not correct for me to prejudge what would be discussed between the two leaders Honorable Prime Minister of India and Honorable Prime Minister of Australia, in their meeting. We will, of course, brief you about those discussions later on after those meeting. I would only say what we have said about in the pre-visit briefing also, that all issues of bilateral engagement, including the issues which pertain to harmony in our society, and the safety and security of our two societies would be there. But it would be incorrect for me to prejudge the discussions between the two leaders because it is for them to take this decision and structure their discussions.

Anand Narsimhan: Namaste this is Anand Narsimhan, CNN NEWS 18. My first question is on the FIPIC aspect, the warmth, the kind of reception and of course breaking away from protocol that was extended to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, did that come as a surprise? And will that translate to support at multilateral forums like the WTO and the UN? How assured are we given the pressure of America and of course to Chinese pressure?

Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: That's a very loaded question.

Anand Narsimhan: Yeah, I have to ask that question because that's….

Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
 No. You are presuming. Go ahead. Other one.

Anand Narsimhan: The other aspect with respect to Australia, one of the aspects is how far has ECTA been productive? So is that going to be the common ground or key aspect (inaudible) and the other aspect final question on the extremism aspect. It's the issue of secessionism which is now which is not being understood. Will that be impressed upon beyond just religious protection or protection of the Indian Diaspora? The act of secessionism against India? .

Vishal: Sir this is Vishal Pandey from Zee News. There is a lot of news we are hearing that regarding the renaming of the Harris Park as Little India. What is the official stand over this? Will the formally renaming the name of Harris Park as Little India?

Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: if you wait another 24 or 48 hours.

Jeff: Jeff from The Australia Today. Will elaborate what Anand was saying. Is the secession movement of Khalistan kind of dangerous for Australia as it is for India? What are the security aspects or the sharing of information with Australia going on? And how important it is for Australia to understand where it is going? Thank you.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Let me just first take up the entire set of observations, I would say translated into questions on different aspects relating to upcoming discussions between the two leaders. I have clearly mentioned to you that it would be not correct for me to prejudge in any way what the two leaders will discuss. But I have also mentioned to you that insofar as questions relating to harmony and safety and security of our two societies, they have always been discussed, periodically been discussed between the two system. How those talks are positioned between the two leaders, we will brief you in detail after those talks are over so that you cannot attach assumption to your questions, but rather have evidence of what happens, that would be far more specific in terms of that element of your observation.

On your question relating to surprise on the welcome whether the surprise and sentiment translates into something as if it's a transaction. Surprise and sentiment are related intrinsically in a very different way compared to how sentiment and other aspect is related, which you mentioned. I think I would put it slightly differently. I think it's a question of the frame of assumption. There is a frame of assumption that surprise and sentiment was for a purpose. There is another frame which takes surprise and sentiment as absolute elements of a relationship between the two society, of a relationship between the leaders and then the productive nature of that relationship, which translates into specific elements of cooperation. I think the welcome that the Honorable Prime Minister was accorded in Papua New Guinea, the warmest of the sentiments that was shown not just by the Honorable Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea who broke all protocol, came to the airport, welcomed Honorable Prime Minister, provided the ceremonial 19 gun salute, but also by the sense which we got in the summit was of a deep rooted intuitive affinity that was displayed towards the Prime Minister and such expression of warmth towards the Honorable Prime Minister which was also manifested in the highest order that Papua New Guinea accorded to the Honorable Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Fiji accorded to the Honorable Prime Minister on behalf of the Fijian President; it showed something which actually displays to you the key element of people to people relationship which is intrinsic element of the composite frame in which India and FIPIC cooperate.

Prime Minister's approach to FIPIC, his vision of FIPIC is of absolutely positive agenda whose central anchor is the development, is the prosperity of the two society, is to deepen value based partnership between India and the countries of the FIPIC. There is a certain amount of bilateral frame in which it operates, much as your question would allude to an externality to it, I would say that the honorable Prime Minister’s vision of FIPIC, partnership with FIPIC, engagement with FIPIC essentially rooted in the prosperity of the people, which then translates into an extensive development agenda and an engagement which is rooted in different elements of economic cooperation. I've listed 12 elements of this if you flush them out into different buckets, you will find there is a strong bucket of capacity engagement. There is another category which strongly deals with their health security needs. You would all perhaps recall, although with time public memory is fleeting, during the pandemic, during the COVID pandemic, India was one of the first countries which extended extensive vaccine and other related assistance to Pacific. And that was simply because our approach to development is human centric, not for the want of any transaction game that you perhaps insinuated in your question. So I think Prime Minister's vision of FIPIC is rooted in that fundamental sense of humanity, people centricity. And that was clearly at display during this particular summit, and was deeply appreciated across the FIPIC summit and pretty much the sense which we got from every speech that was made at today's summit. Thank you.

Again, in terms of larger frame of economic cooperation between India and Australia, ECTA in particular, and progress from ECTA to Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. As I said, ECTA, as you know, has only been in existence, not for too long and the discussions are already underway between the two commerce ministries on how to progress from ECTA to the next step. Clearly again, it's not, it is rather inappropriate for me to say how leaders would take stock of how the progress has been under the ECTA and the next steps, but clearly, the wider transformation in the sentiment between the two economies and if you were to look specific manifestations of that sentiment between the two economies, not just limited to trade and the movement of capital, but also trade in goods, trade in services; I would say in some ways, discussions on technology partnership, education as a separate rubric of engagement, those frankly, have seen very rapid concrete examples we have seen clearly in the last six, seven months, including in particular during the very successful visit of the Honorable Prime Minister of Australia. I know they are reflected in our trade data I mean between the two countries, very fast growth we are seeing. I think growth from month to month is quite rapid. Clearly, the value that ECTA has unlocked in terms of commodities, goods, services, and their movement between the two economies has been quite considerable, but it also shows that, you know, that we should be hopefully able to progress quickly on to the next steps but that I will leave for the two principals on both sides to work out. Thank you.

Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you also to Shri Manpreet Vohra, and Smt. Paramita Tripathi. Thank you all for joining us. Stay tuned for the visit. Thank you.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much.