PM’s Press Conference following 7th India-ASEAN and 4th East Asia Summit, Hua Hin (Thailand)
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh: Ladies and gentlemen, I have completed two very productive days of meetings at the 7th India-ASEAN Summit and the 4th East Asia Summit.
I am extremely satisfied with the outcome of the India-ASEAN Summit. I found a strong desire among the ASEAN countries to substantially strengthen their links with India in all areas. This includes not only economic cooperation and trade but also science and technology, human resource development, protection of the environment, and deeper political and security cooperation.
The conclusion of the India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement is a concrete step forward in the process of India’s integration with South East Asia. As a follow up to this Agreement, we have agreed to expedite the finalization of the Agreement on Trade in Services and Investment.
The ASEAN countries were deeply appreciative of the fresh initiatives announced by India, notably the establishment of an India-ASEAN Round Table, the preparation of a Vision Statement for our relations till the year 2020, marking of commemorative events in 2012, and our offer of assistance of up to 50 million US dollars to fund various projects under the ASEAN Work Plan for the period 2009-2015.
At the East Asia Summit, I shared our vision of an Asian Economic Community that is based on an open and inclusive regional architecture. The EAS countries recognize the impact of India’s socio-economic transformation on the reshaping of the global economic order and the opportunities this has for accelerating Asia’s own growth. I reiterated India’s commitment to the success of international efforts to combat climate change, the urgent need to collaborate in the research and development of renewable energy technologies, the need for Asia to focus on food and energy security and disaster management, all of which are key to finding a path to sustainable development. There was agreement that the issues of terrorism and non-traditional threats to security have to be addressed with resolve and firmness.
The EAS Leaders’ endorsement of the Nalanda University Project which is to be located in Bihar is a matter of deep satisfaction. We intend to move forward with the next steps to establish the Nalanda University as a centre of excellence in education and international understanding.
I had very useful meetings with the leaders of China, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam; and I will shortly be meeting the President of Indonesia after this press conference. These meetings reflect our desire to build a set of cooperative partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region, and to play our rightful role in establishing peace, prosperity and stability in Asia.
I return to India convinced that there is tremendous goodwill for India in South East and East Asia, and therefore the sky is the limit for our engagement with this region.
Mr. Prime Minister, what happened in your meeting with the Chinese Premier? Did we raise the issue of Chinese incursions into Indian territory?
Manmohan Singh: I had a frank and constructive exchange of views with Premier Wen both during our formal meetings and at the gala dinner last night. We discussed all these issues and agreed that existing mechanisms for bilateral cooperation should be used to resolve all issues amicably in the spirit of the strategic and cooperative partnerships. As you know, the Chinese foreign minister will be visiting India in two days’ time and the foreign ministers will have an opportunity to discuss all issues which have bearing on our relationship. The Premier and I reaffirmed the need to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border pending a resolution of the boundary question. Both of us agreed that we should continue and strengthen efforts to build political trust and understanding.
After the global crisis, like Indonesia India is one of the few countries that still have a positive growth in economy. And that makes us a potential market for world trade. With FTA, is India still going to open its market or will you keep some protection on certain goods such as palm oil?
Manmohan Singh: Madam, we have welcomed the negotiation of the Free Trade Agreement in Goods with ASEAN countries. The President of Indonesia and I in 2005 had laid the target of 10 billion dollars trade turnover by the year 2010. I am glad to report that target has already been reached. India has a vast unsatisfied demand for vegetable oils. Therefore, there is a ready market for Indonesian palm oil in our country, and that will remain so.
Mr. Prime Minister, one of the issues that the Chinese side agreed publicly prior to their meeting with you was their objections to the planned visit to Arunachal Pradesh by the Dalai Lama. In your view do you think this proposed visit will complicate India’s relations with China and make resolution of the boundary issue more difficult?
Manmohan Singh: All I can say is that I explained to Premier Wen that the Dalai Lama is our honoured guest; he is a religious leader; we do not allow the Tibetan refugees to indulge in political activities; and that as proof of that last year we took resolute action at the time of Olympics when there were reports that some Tibetan refugees might disrupt the process. That is the position that I explained to Premier Wen.
Manmohan Singh: Yes
I would like to ask about Indian policy towards Burma. At the moment we are seeing re-engagement by the US in South East Asia including Burma; we are seeing problems between Burma and China; and a possibility of civil war with the ethnic groups on ceasefire agreements collapsing; we are seeing tension now on the border with Bangladesh. I wonder what the Indian Government’s reflection on these issues is.
Manmohan Singh: These are matters which figured at the East Asian leaders’ Summit. In fact there was an atmosphere of hope that the Myanmar leadership is moving towards normalising its relations with the United States; that they were working towards national reconciliation; and that is what we all welcome. The next year’s election should see a reconciliation of the various segments of the Myanmar society.
Just going back to Sidharth’s question, you did mention that you explained your position to the Chinese side but were they convinced enough? And is there any change of plan as of now in the Dalai Lama’s planned tour to Arunachal Pradesh?
Manmohan Singh: I am not aware of the plans of the Dalai Lama. I have explained this position to the Chinese leadership. We have also agreed that whatever outstanding issues there may be between us - and there is the complex boundary question which cannot be wished away - there are established government channels to exchange views on all these issues, and one does not have therefore to go to the media to accentuate or exaggerate the amount of differences that prevail. We both agreed that the boundary question is a complex question; that pending a resolution of the boundary question we both have an obligation to maintain peace and tranquillity along the border.
Sir, main Hindi mein sawal poochhunga aur chahunga ki aap Hindi mein jawab dein. Mera sawal desh ki samasya se juda hua hai, Sir. Commonwealth Games ko le kar Dilli mein bahut zyada utha-pathak machi hai. Sawal khade ho rahen hain ki Commonwealth Games theek se ho payenge ki nahin ho payenge. Congress ke ek faction ne, bahut saare MPs ne, demand kiye public mein ki Rahul Gandhi ko yeh zimmedari milni chahiye taaki jaise Rajiv Gandhi ne Asiad successful karaye the Rahul Gandhi usko kara sake. Kya aap bhi is rukh se sahmat hain?
Manmohan Singh: Dekhiye, jo bhi problems Games ke smooth functioning ke liye hone chahiye thodi si deri hui hai kuchh projects ko implement karne mein. Lekin mujhe vishwas hai ki jo mechanism hamne ab put in place unse yeh dar door ho jaana chahiye ki Games theek tarah se nahin ho sakengi. Mujhe poora vishwas hai ki Games theek tarah se hongi, shaandar tarike se honge, aur jo bhi spectator aayenge, they are going to see a spectacular show.
Sir, the North-Eastern States have expressed concern about reports of China trying to build dams on upper reaches of Brahmaputra. Did you raise this issue with the Chinese Premier?
Manmohan Singh: I did raise this issue with Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday. I conveyed to him that cooperation in the area of trans-border rivers is of mutual benefit. Premier Wen said that keeping in mind the overall friendly relations and the humanitarian aspects, the Chinese side has been providing hydrological data during the flood season. He said that relevant discussion on trans-border river issues could be held through the expert level mechanism that we have constituted. So, the answer to your question is, I did raise the issue of trans-border river systems.
Sir, mera sawal hai ki China ne Kashmir ke hamare nagrikon ko visa dene mein differentiate kiya. Kya yeh issue bhi aapne Chimese Premier ke saath uthaya?
Manmohan Singh: There was a general discussion of all bilateral issues. I did not specifically raise this issue because I thought the position is quite clear as far as we are concerned. Whether it is Arunachal Pradesh or Jammu and Kashmir, they are integral parts of our country. I did not raise this and it was not raised on their side.
There is information that the Negative List of India relating to the India-ASEAN FTA is not yet finalised. So, what will be the measures to protect our sensitive products in India?
Manmohan Singh: I would ask the minister of commerce and industry to answer this question.
Minister of Commerce and Industry (Shri Anand Sharma): While we negotiated India-ASEAN FTA, it was very clear that India negotiated keeping in mind the sensitivities and the concerns of the Indian farmers and the plantation sector. Unlike the other major economies of the region which have the FTA with ASEAN, we have negotiated a Negative List as well as a Highly Sensitive List. The Negative List has 489 tariff lines which include the plantation sector, which include the marine products. It is disinformation which has been deliberately spread that India has not negotiated. After the Chief Minister, in fact in one case, of the State of Kerala had met with the honourable Prime Minister, we had committed to send after the signing all the details with the Negative List and the Highly Sensitive List. They are in public domain available on the Commerce and Industry Ministry’s website, and also with the concerned State Governments.
Manmohan Singh: The answer to your question is that the Negative List is in place.
Sir, my question pertains to India. There is a growing demand by the Opposition that your Cabinet colleague the Telecom Minister must quit, since a CBI inquiry is going on in the matter related to spectrum allocation. What is your reaction?
Manmohan Singh: I think Cabinet changes or Cabinet reshuffles are not discussed in public. So, it will be very inappropriate for me to answer that question, more so on the foreign soil.
Pradhan Mantriji mera bhi sawal desh ko le kar ke hai. Naxalwad ke chalte Bihar, Jharkhand, aur Chhattisgarh mein - waise to kaafi jagahon pe hain - kaafi agrarian aur industrial unrest ka mahaul kaafi saalon se chal raha hai. Aur iske chalte vahan kaafi starvation ki sthiti hai. Aap log ise kitni gambhirta se le rahen hain? Aur iske liye kya ek koi special relief package ki baat aap logon ke dimag mein hai?
Manmohan Singh: Dekhiye, maine kai baar kaha hai ki Naxal problem hamari internal security ki sabse badi samasya ban kar hamare saamne aayi hai. Is ko kabu paane le liye har tarah ke upaay karne honge. Law and order machinery ko majboot banaana hoga. Saath hi saath jo bhi social aur economic causes hain, jisse alienation badhti hai, unko door karne ke liye bhi upaay sochne honge.
Sir, my question also relates to the Maoist problem. Recently West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee met you. But there is a perception that the State Administration has completely failed to contain this menace despite Union Government’s help. You have given the Central forces there. What have you discussed with the Chief Minister? What is his perception on how to tackle this problem?
Manmohan Singh: I would not like to disclose what I discuss in confidence with the Chief Ministers of our States. But I have stated it publicly that both the Central and the State Governments have an obligation to take effective steps to control the Naxalite problem.
A very good afternoon, Sir. India has strongly objected to Chinese involvement in infrastructural projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Was that issue raised?
Manmohan Singh: I did not raise specifically this issue but we both agreed that whatever issues are outstanding should be discussed two days later when the Foreign Ministers of our two countries are going to meet. As you know, the Chinese Foreign Minister is coming to India on 27th of this month to participate in India-China-Russia Summit at Foreign Ministers level. Therefore, there will be opportunities for the two Foreign Ministers to exchange views on all relevant issues.
Good afternoon, Sir. There was a consensus at the G20 meeting that the time is not right to exit the stimulus right now. Has there been any talk of this at any of the two Summits that you attended? Also, the RBI Governor stating quite clearly that India will have to exhibit easy monetary stance sooner than other economies, with the Fed Policy two days away, do you think the time is right for India to look at exiting the easy policy and raising interest rates?
Manmohan Singh: There was a good deal of discussion about the global economy, the performance of the real economy, the role of stimulus packages, and there was general agreement that stimulus packages should not be withdrawn in haste or phased out prematurely. Therefore, I think there has to be a delicate balance between the adoption of stimulus packages and their modification or removal. I think this has to be a subject matter of detailed investigation. Multilateral fora like this can deal with these issues only in general terms. Yes, there was a general discussion about the stimulus, about whether the time is right to withdraw it. I think there was a fair amount of agreement that probably the time is not right to withdraw the stimulus.
On interest rates, Sir, the RBI Governor saying that we may need to exit sooner than others.
Manmohan Singh: Monetary policy is the preserve of the Reserve Bank of India. I would not like to, in public, join issues with the Governor. The Governor is a high dignitary. Therefore, I think these questions about interest rates, the tightening of money supply and all these related issues are best addressed to the Governor or to the Finance Minister.
Mr. Prime Minister, you have raised at the East Asia Summit many countries raising the spectre of terrorism. Was there a serious discussion on this and what was the reaction from the other countries on this?
Manmohan Singh: There are countries which are affected by terrorism like Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia. So, there is general agreement that there should be cooperation in counter-terror measures; that there should be exchange of information and intelligence. On this all countries are agreed.
Sir, Mr. Raja has said that whatever he has done was done with the knowledge of the Prime Minister. Your comments please.
Manmohan Singh: I do not want to comment on Cabinet matters, or what happens in the Cabinet, or what happens between me and Ministers, in public. It is not proper for me to join issue with a Cabinet colleague in public.
My question relates to trade agreements. You have repeatedly stressed your satisfaction at the conclusion of the FTA with ASEAN. We already have some trade agreements in place specifically with Thailand, but the experience so far has not been very advantageous for India. The trade balance has swung towards Thailand’s favour. In this context, what is your personal evaluation as far as the specific benefits to India are concerned through these FTAs? Secondly, where does this leave our multilateral agreement ... where talks are still deadlocked?
Manmohan Singh: We are living in a world where nearly 50 per cent of the global trade is conducted in the framework of various regional arrangements. So long as these arrangements exist we have to take advantage of these regional arrangements. My own view is that India’s destiny lies in working very closely with the economies of South-East Asia. Even fifteen sixteen years ago when I was Finance Minister I emphasised the importance of the Look East Policy to find practical, pragmatic solutions to accelerated growth in our country. I do believe that these temporary imbalances should not blind us to the longer term vision that India’s destiny lies in close integration with countries of South-East Asia.
Sir, do you propose to visit Kashmir and whether you propose to hold talks with the separatist groups also?
Manmohan Singh: I have plans to go to Kashmir in a few days’ time to inaugurate railway projects. As far as negotiations with any separatist groups are concerned, well my specific purpose is not to start negotiations or to engage in negotiation myself. But I have always maintained that it is our sincere desire to engage all sections of political opinion in Jammu and Kashmir to find practical, pragmatic solutions to the problems facing the State. I recognise that there are some political groups who are outside the mainstream. We would like them also to engage in a constructive dialogue with us. I have already had two-three meetings with the Hurriyat people. They had promised to come back with specific suggestions. I am still waiting for them.
Sir, bank credit growth continues to be at 10 per cent. What should be the course of monetary action?
Manmohan Singh: As I said, monetary policy is the exclusive domain of the Reserve Bank. It is not proper for me to comment on the monetary policy stance that should be adopted. These are matters which the Governor is competent to take decisions. He does come and brief me from time to time and I am satisfied that both monetary and fiscal policies in our country are in line with our requirements.
Text in italics is Hindi to English transliteration.