Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson and Indian Ambassador to China on Chinese Premier's ongoing visit to India
Official Spokesperson, Syed Akbaruddin: Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. As you know, we have just had the delegation-level talks between Prime Minister Singh and Premier Li. I have here with me Ambassador Jaishankar who is our Ambassador in China. Along with him is Mr. Gautam Bambawale, Joint Secretary (East Asia), who also looks after China at headquarters. What we will try and do is to give you in a summarized form what we see as the importance of the visit.
You have with you a large number of documents which are available. Let me try and recall for you what they are. You have with you eight agreements. We have outlined what these agreements are. If any of you would like any clarifications on them, we will provide them. You also have with you a very substantive, productive and broad-ranging joint statement which gives you an understanding of the broad areas of convergence between India and China. Now let me try and summarise for you the visit before I ask Ambassador Jaishankar to speak a little bit more.
As you are aware, this is the first visit of Premier Li outside China. Therefore, we have repeatedly emphasized that for us this is a very important visit both in terms of gestures but also more importantly in terms of substance. When we mean substance we want you to have a look at the Joint Statement, the various areas – we will run through some of them with you – as well as the agreements which came out of the visit. It was also for us a very productive visit, productive again in terms of forward-looking areas that how we see the relationship growing. And finally you have yourselves seen the personal chemistry between Premier Li and Prime Minister Singh.
So, if I may summarise for us it has been two very very useful, productive, important, substantive days. We hope that the takeaway that all of you leave with from here is what we are trying to convey to you in terms of this visit.
I will now request Ambassador Jaishankar to speak to you for a few minutes because he has been involved with this visit since its inception to date, and he will give you a flavour of what went into it, what were the issues that were discussed, before we open the floor for questions. Ambassador Jaishankar!
Indian Ambassador to China Dr S. Jaishankar: Thank you, Akbar.
At the risk of some repetition, let me start really with what Akbar said, which is: it is a significant visit, it is a substantive visit, it is a productive visit, and he made the chemistry point.
Now why is it significant? I think an India-China visit at the level of a Premier is by definition a very significant visit. The fact that you have a Premier- level visit in India and China itself is a very significant event. The fact that it is the first stop of Premier Li’s first visit abroad adds to the significance. And he himself made the point that he had given it some thought before deciding on India. He actually said that this underlined that India was a priority today in Chinese foreign policy.
Now, the substantive part. I think as Akbar mentioned, there were wide-ranging talks, candid. All matters were discussed. And it took place at a time when actually the relationship is expanding in many ways, cooperation is growing. There are issues but on the whole the view was that our shared interests are more than our differences. Regional and global issues also were discussed but not at the same length as bilateral ones.
In terms of the outcomes, the Joint Statement sort of reflects that and the agreements reflect it very accurately. Premier Li is a very outgoing person, very warm. He recalled his 1986 visit to India, quite nostalgic about it. So, that really in many ways sort of set the atmosphere.
On the bilateral side, I think the first big point was the discussions focused on the need to build greater trust. Obviously peace and tranquility issues came up because of recent happenings. I think the main point made from our side was that peace and tranquility on the border is the foundation of our relationship. Where really the discussions led to was that the Special Representatives would meet, they would discuss and consider further measures on how to strengthen peace and tranquility.
Economic issues took up a lot of time in the discussion. Obviously trade including the trade deficit, market access issues came up at some length. What we saw was that the Chinese Premier suggested very practical measures on how to deal with this. I would say, in the last few years certainly this was the most positive and most practical response that we have got at the high level from the Chinese side. Again some of it was in evidence in the agreements which were signed in terms of greater market access.
The second aspect of economic cooperation was investment. Really both sides saw investment as providing part of the solution to trade problems, that if there was more investment it would in a sense facilitate trade between the two countries, it would create more employment, it would open up new areas. I think projects particularly in the infrastructure sector were very positively looked at.
There was some discussion on energy cooperation, all forms of energy cooperation. There was a certain amount of interest in taking that forward. You saw from the agreements that some best practices in urbanization, in water usage were discussed and agreed upon. I should add here that the India-China CEOs’ forum had its first meeting today. This was really the economic basket.
Water, in this case river, came up for discussion, trans-border rivers. I would really characterize the Chinese response as sympathetic. I think they recognize that we have concerns. They pointed out that they were responsible, that they would not do something which would damage our interests. And essentially what we agreed upon was that we would strengthen our cooperation based on our existing mechanism and now we have to work further on that.
There was some discussion on people-to-people relations. We signed an agreement on twinning cities. We have, as you know, other cooperation on teaching Chinese language, on tourism. We are working on liberalizing the visa system right now.
If I were to sum it up on the bilateral side, I would say it was a lot potential, new areas to be explored. I think a point made was that if India and China are both growing, surely our relationship should be growing at least as fast as we are each growing. I think that was fairly optimistic, fairly visionary in a way.
On the bilateral side I think the follow-up which we are looking at is that Raksha Mantri, Defence Minister, would be going to China soon. The dates would be announced when we are ready. NSA Mr. Menon would also be going to China as Special Representative to meet his counterpart. There will be a meeting of the Strategic Economic Dialogue which is headed on our side by Mr. Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, and at some point of time in the near future a meeting of our Commerce Ministers which is the Joint Economic Group. So, these would all now take place now that the Premier’s visit is over.
Apart from that, on the regional, global issues I would just make three very quick points. Yesterday at dinner, global economy was discussed at some length. Again if I were to sum it up, it would be really that developing nations like India and China have a shared interest in a more open economy, in a less protectionist economy.
Then regional trade and connectivity came up for discussion. This included issues like the RCEP and the RTA, the bilateral FTA, which as many of you would be aware is a goal that we are looking at when conditions are right.
There was an agreement that we would study economic corridor of BCIM countries which of course would also now require us to consult Bangladesh and Myanmar before that goes forward. There was some discussion today on Afghanistan, and I think the Afghanistan position is very accurately captured by the Joint Statement paragraph.
I think on my side that is really what I have.
Syed Akbaruddin: With that we will then throw the floor open for questions. We will take about ten or twelve questions because Dr. Jaishankar has another appointment.
Question: Sir, in the backdrop in which the Chinese Premier has come here, was there any specific assurance on the border issue? Of and on there are assurances from the Chinese side but it does not work. What was new in this meeting?
Dr S. Jaishankar: First of all what was new was that it was a visit, it was coming after an incident which was very unusual. I think basically where the discussions headed was that we need to look into how this happened and what are the lessons to be learnt. That is where, as I pointed out, the understanding was that we would ask the Special Representatives to really lead that effort and they will look into the mechanisms, how they work, what were the shortcomings, how this happened. And if they have suggestions to make, I think both governments will look at it.
Question: Sir, was the border defence cooperation agreement discussed or how to go forward on it?
Dr S. Jaishankar: No.
Question: Did we ever ask them why this incident happened in Ladakh? It was not just a regular incursion. As you yourself said, it was an unusual incident and we still do not seem to have figured out why this happened in the first place.
Dr S. Jaishankar: During this visit obviously this issue was discussed at some length. You all heard the Prime Minister’s media statement. If you look at the Joint Statement, we underlined the importance of peace and tranquillity. The fact is that the boundary issue is a complicated issue. The agreement between the leaders was that this needed detailed examination. And that is really what they left, they charged the Special Representatives with that.
Question: Was there any specific discussion on building greater military-to-military trust and in maritime domain?
Dr S. Jaishankar: Yes, there was a certain amount of discussion particularly today on more defence cooperation and defence exchanges including maritime. The understanding was that we would work on this so that by the time Raksha Mantri’s visit takes place we would be in a position to really show that this has gone forward.
Syed Akbaruddin: Manish, I would also refer you to paragraphs 22 and 23 of the Joint Statement. Paragraph 23 deals specifically with enhanced interaction in the military field, and paragraph 22 deals with bilateral cooperation on maritime security.
Question: Can you just talk about BDCA the draft of which was given by China to India on 4th of March? How do you look at this document? Have we given them our own counter suggestions? And you said that this issue did not come up before the two Premiers? Isn’t it rather surprising, or was it by design?
Dr S. Jaishankar: The Chinese gave us their draft on the 4th of March. I think we gave them our draft on the 10th May. Obviously now we will be discussing it with the Chinese. Since our draft is pending their consideration, to me it is not at all surprising the matter did not come up because it is still something on which we need to engage them in detailed discussions.
Question: Dr. Jaishankar, the border talks have been going on since Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in December 1988. You had a Joint Working Group and then SRs. One hears from academic circles something to the effect that at one point of time the Chinese have suggested that the existing Line of Control be treated as a permanent border. Is there any truth to that?
Dr S. Jaishankar: I am here just to brief you on a visit and whatever happened on a visit, not on what academics might tell you about a negotiation where they were not actually in the room. So, I think I do not want to get into what happened, or did not happen, or could have happened, or speculated to have happened. In terms of the visit this was not an issue.
Question: There is a reference to bilateral nuclear cooperation in the Joint Statement. What will be the shape of this nuclear cooperation, and did China agree to India’s demand for a membership to various nuclear regimes?
Dr S. Jaishankar: We have had bilateral civil nuclear cooperation with China in the past, not in the recent past but in the past. Today the issue came up again. And you must bear in mind that we are today probably the two countries who have the largest planned civil nuclear energy programme. So, it makes great sense for us to exchange views and have other exchanges. So, I think in the meeting today the two Prime Ministers decided that this was an area that we should be doing more. The NSG issue did not specifically come up because I think that is still being worked at at another level.
Question: Dr. Jaishankar, you said that the talks you are trying to escalate and speed up also bilateral relations and bring them up to scale of the size of the two countries. You spoke about the visit of the Defence Minister, the NSA, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Is there a timeframe that was discussed given the larger intention of speeding up everything including also for the border talks and the future meetings of the Special Representatives?
Dr S. Jaishankar: It was decided that the Special Representatives would meet soon. Here by talking soon, I am not talking months I am talking weeks. But I would hesitate to give you a date because I think they have not worked out a date yet.
Dr S. Jaishankar: Yes. So, I am telling you that they are meeting soon.
Question: Ambassador Jaishankar, I am a little confused, why does our Prime Minister think that the existing mechanism for peace and tranquillity on the border is working while the Chinese Premier says there are deficiencies, it needs to be improved?
Dr S. Jaishankar: I do not think your characterization is accurate. Let me tell you the words I heard, and I had the advantage of being in the room. The words I heard were that, I mean they discussed this issue. And where they left it was, if there were shortcomings, if things did not happen as promptly as they should have, as effectively they should have, then definitely the whole matter is worth a very serious look. And then if they both agree that it is worth a serious look, then the logical people to look at it are the SRs. So, that is how that conversation went. I do not think the way you put it that one felt this way and one felt that way. I think there was an understanding on this.
Question: Did the Chinese side express any concern or dismay about the activities of the Tibetan refugees, particularly the Dalai Lama in India? And what was our response?
Dr S. Jaishankar: The matter came up, not at any great length, and our response was that the Tibetans in India do not conduct political activities from Indian soil, and we stand by that position.
Question: Sir, Premier Li kept referring to the strategic consensus that has been reached between India and China. Would you please elaborate what the strategic consensus is?
Dr S. Jaishankar: The way he used that term to the best of my understanding is that we have agreed on big and basic issues on how to take our relations forward. When you use the adjective strategic, it both indicates in a sense the long-term nature of the understandings between us and the enormity of the implications of what it is that we were discussing.
Question: Because we know that China proposed a new border defence cooperation agreement, and this time we are looking forward to the two sides to sign this agreement, but this time it does not happen. So, what is India’s concern?
Dr S. Jaishankar: I have answered that. This is an ongoing negotiation. The Chinese have given us their proposal. We have given them our proposal. We gave them our proposal just a few days ago. The Chinese need a few days to study it like we took time to study this. So, it is something which will be discussed between us and only then you will see the result.
Syed Akbaruddin: Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction. I do understand there were several of you who would like to ask another twenty-five questions but unfortunately we do not have the time. Thank you.