Arindam Bagchi, the official spokesperson of the Foreign Office held his weekly media briefing on May 19. The transcript is available now.
Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me begin with an announcement regarding the Prime Minister’s visit to Japan. At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Japan, His Excellency Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will participate in the third Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo on 24th of May 2022, along with President Joseph Biden Junior of USA and the Prime Minister of Australia. The Summit in Tokyo is actually the fourth interaction of Quad leaders since the first virtual meeting in March 2021. And of course, the in-person Summit in Washington last September, and the virtual meeting in March this year. The forthcoming Quad Summit provides an opportunity for the leaders to exchange views about developments in the Indo-Pacific region, and contemporary global issues of mutual interest. The leaders will review progress of Quad initiatives and working groups, identify new areas of cooperation and provide strategic guidance and vision for future collaborations.
On the bilateral meetings that usually take place, Prime Minister will have a bilateral meeting with His Excellency, Mr. Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan on 24th of May. The meeting with Prime Minister Kishida will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to carry forward their conversations from the 14th India – Japan Annual Summit which was held in March 2022 in New Delhi. During his visit, Prime Minister will participate in business events with Japanese business leaders. He will also address and interact with the Indian community in Japan.
Prime Minister will have a bilateral meeting with the US President on 24th May. The meeting will mark a continuation of the regular dialogue, having interacted most recently in virtual mode on 11th of April this year. The two leaders are expected to review the India-US Strategic Partnership and follow up on discussions held during Prime Minister’s bilateral meeting with President Biden last September. They will also exchange views on regional and global developments of shared interest. Prime Minister is also likely to have a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia. As you know, elections are scheduled to be held in Australia on 21st of May. The two leaders we would hope would look at reviewing the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and exchange views on issues of both global and regional developments. The last bilateral meeting between the Prime Minister and Prime Minister of Australia was held, this was a virtual meeting, on 21st of March this year, which was followed by the signing of the India Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement on 2nd of April. So that’s broadly the announcement that I wanted to mention. I am happy to take questions.
Kavita Joshi: (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, I am Kavita Joshi from Hari Bhoomi Newspaper, my question is, does the ministry plan to reopen its embassy in Afghanistan? If there is such a plan, should it be considered that India is going to start its bilateral and diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and also recognize the Taliban and its government?
Sidhant: Sir in Tokyo, the American President will be launching the economic initiative Indo Pacific Economic Framework. So, what is India’s stance? Will India also back this initiative of the US President?
Sandeep: (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir my name is Sandeep from News 18 India. Sir my question is that there are reports that another bridge on Pangong Tso is being built by China, do you have any further information about it Sir?
Madhurendra: (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Madhurendra from News Nation, my question is also about Pangong Tso. In the briefing of January 6, you had told, when China was building the 1st bridge on Pangong Tso, its pictures came out and India had also expressed its opposition, despite that second bridge is now being built by China on Pangong Tso which is said to be very important strategically. The pictures that have come out are revealing that China can easily do the armoured movement on it and can also mobilise its army? So, the talks which were continuing in the meantime did not have any effect on China, why China has been successful in building the second bridge?
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Afghanistan! (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Kavita ji, your question was on Afghanistan. as you know, in August 2021 last year, due to the deterioration in the security situation in Kabul, we had to evacuate all our Indian personnel from Afghanistan. Despite this, given the historical relationship we have with the people of Afghanistan, we have continued to provide humanitarian assistance, especially wheat which is still going on; we have sent medicines; also sent vaccines. In the context of your specific question, I will only say that I don’t have any update, so if we have anything about it, we will definitely share it with you.
Since this question will be asked in English. Let me also try to answer that in English. As you are aware, following the sharp deterioration in security situation Kabul in August last year, we had to relocate all India based personnel out of Afghanistan. Given our historical ties with Afghan people, we have continued to provide humanitarian assistance, particularly supplies of wheat, medicines and vaccines. As regards a specific query about reopening of embassy, if there is any update, we will certainly share it with you.
I think Sidhant your question was on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. I think that’s the terminology being used. I’m actually not sure because let me just say that, look, I think it’s called the Economic Plan, so IPEF or a framework. So, look, this is an initiative of the United States. We have received details of this. And we are examining it. At this point that’s all I have to say. I would not be in a position to prejudge what might happen in Tokyo or in future, but as I said, we are looking into the initiative or the proposal.
(Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) The other two questions were from Sandeep and Madhurendra. See, two issues are different, talks are going on. I have already said that the regular talks that we have been having about LAC are ongoing. Chinese Foreign Minister also came and we had talks with him. We conveyed to him our expectations. You will recall that our External Affairs Minister also directly explained, how the conversation took place and the issues that were discussed; our expectations; and that we will continue to take them forward. I have seen reports about the bridge. This is a military issue, I will not be able to comment on it or on where it’s exactly located. And as we have said, we believe the entire area is the occupied area. Ministry of Defense will be able to tell you better its details and its implications. But if there is anything else to share, we will tell you. We have also seen the media reports and other reports.
Basically, look, I think that there are the issues of talks as well as this bridge. On the talks part of it, I think we have been pretty clear. And I think we will be saying the same thing repeatedly. We have had various rounds of conversations with the Chinese side, different levels, diplomatic and military side. As you’re aware, Foreign Minister Wang Yi was here in March this year, and EAM conveyed our expectations to him. As the EAM had said, then, and I remember him talking to the media subsequently, the frictions and tensions that arise from China’s deployments since April 2020, cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between two neighbours.
So, we will continue to remain engaged with Chinese side both at the diplomatic and military levels to ensure that the directions given by the two ministers are implemented fully. And of course, if there is any further update, we will share with you. So that’s on the talks part of it. We have seen media reports and other reports on the so-called bridge or I don’t know if it’s another bridge – somebody said it’s a second bridge, or if it’s an expansion or widening of the current bridge. In the area that was referred to, of course, we’ve always considered this area occupied for decades. And from a military perspective, I would not be in a position to comment. That I think Ministry of Defence would be in better position to tell and also the implications of that. But as I said, we monitor such developments and if there’s any update on this, we will share with you.
Suhasini: My question is about the visit of the US coordinator on democracy, human rights as well as the special coordinator on Tibet, Uzra Zeya to Delhi. In two parts, one Uzra is believed to have met with civil society representatives. Did she raise any human rights concerns in her meetings with Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra. And the second is that China has issued a statement protesting the visit and her meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, fairly strongly. Has China raised this in any bilateral context, either in Beijing or in Delhi, with the Indian government?
Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me mention from our perspective, look US under Secretary of State, Uzra Zeya as she has multiple roles, but she’s US under Secretary of State, is on an official visit to India. She met senior officials here of GoI, including Foreign Secretary and Secretary West in the Ministry of External Affairs. She also met the Chief Election Commissioner, among others. Discussions focused on global and regional issues of mutual interests. We always say that. Both sides also discussed follow up to PM’s participation in the Summit for Democracy in December 2021, that was hosted by President Biden. I am not aware of the details of the conversation about whether what specific issues were raised, I would not be able to comment on that. But as regards other activities and agenda, I would refer you to the US Embassy, and they would be in a better position to indicate what all she’s doing in terms of official meetings. This was here with the government. This is what it was. …..
Aparajit Chakraborty: This is Aparajit Chakraborty from China Daily. Beijing has already started the process to facilitate the return of Indian students to China, in the backdrop of this decision, do you think is there any possibility that India will review its decision to cancel the tourist visa of Chinese nationals? Or that decision will improve bilateral relations?
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: … look, you made two assertive statements. I don’t know whether I am fully with you there. I do know, there was some announcement of modalities of seeing how Indian students can go back to China, as you know, this is a priority for us. And we have been saying this on this platform and various other occasions, we have been raising it. I know that there’s some information that was collected by our embassy, I don’t have the latest update on what exactly has happened or whether the students have started to go. I’ve not seen any reports that indicate they’re back there yet.
We would certainly continue to press the Chinese side to take measures so that Indian students whose opportunities are there and are required to go back, including those in medical, are able to go, and they do not suffer anymore because of these restrictions.
The other element that you referred to in terms of Visa, I don’t think there was a cancellation. And I remember this query came up, I think, the last time we spoke or before that, we basically said that, given the COVID situation in China or in certain cities, it wasn’t an opportune time to look at resuming grant of tourist Visas. Because there are certain visas that are continuing, I don’t think this situation would have changed too much. This is not a new decision; this decision exists in terms of COVID related restrictions. I don’t even would like to speculate whether this would improve relations between the two countries. So, let’s see. I think both sides should understand the plight of students who are stuck. And I think let’s work towards that. And as situation on COVID improves, of course, as we have done with other countries, we’ll see what can be done on the other kinds of Visas.
Coming back finally, into the query on Quad vaccine. Look, again, we have sent under the Quad umbrella, vaccines, as you correctly mentioned, I think it was Cambodia and Thailand, which were sent recently. Though you are also correct that this was vaccines Made in India Covishield. I disagree with you, when you seem to indicate it detracts from the overall goal. I think this is part of exactly whatever each country can do is doing in terms of contributing to that. Yes, the original plan was to have a very different modality. But again, what is the final objective is to ensure that vaccines are shared Under Quad umbrella to those countries that need it. About the details of what would happen and as you said, the labs etc. Yes, there have been developments. There are working groups that under this, which would hopefully look at these elements. I would think this Quad Summit would be an opportunity to, again, look at this, but I don’t know whether I can make a commitment that they will be reviewed or not. I think that would be a bit more than I can confirm at this point. Okay. Thank you very much for your presence here today.