Joint press conference with External Affairs Minister of India

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue; Hamas-Israel conflict; Quad summit; ongoing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific; unsafe and unprofessional interaction with PLA-N; diplomatic relations between India and Canada.
New Delhi, India

Dr Sunrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister: Friends from the media. First of all, let me welcome my friend, Foreign Minister Penny Wong on her second visit to India as Foreign Minister this year. As you know, we have just concluded the 14th Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue. We had a very good discussion, which really covered a very large number of subjects. Essentially, on the bilateral side, we took stock of where our ties are. We reviewed the progress made on different initiatives, especially the follow up to the first annual summit which took place between our Prime Ministers this year in May. There is, I can say without exaggeration, a real momentum in the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Our Prime Ministers actually exchanged visits this year. Prime Minister Albanese was in India again in September for the G20. And I would really, also, on that note, like to thank Foreign Minister Wong for Australia's strong and consistent support given to us in the context of our G20 Presidency. Yesterday, Raksha Mantri and I held the second India-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministers Dialogue, along with Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong. And this, again, as you would be aware, is a format we have with select partners. It is reflective of the growing and deepening engagement between our two countries. And I must say it was a very productive 2+2.

Where India and Australia are concerned, I can say that there have really been many firsts in our relationship this year. We have made a new beginning with the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement entered into force and this is the first year that we are seeing its impact, which has been very positive on our trade. As I said, we saw the first annual summit. There were two visits by the Australian Prime Minister. When our PM went to Australia, we established Little India in Sydney. We saw new Consulates General on both sides. The Australians in Bengaluru, we are opening ours in Brisbane. More direct flight connections, the opening of the first Australian university campuses in India, an agreement on mutual recognition of educational qualifications, migration and mobility arrangement. So, as you can see, really, every facet of this relationship is actually on the move. Today amongst other things, we also discussed, highlighted the importance of moving on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, the CECA negotiations. We spoke of the way forward for greater mobility of our students and professionals. And we are committed, both of us, to ensuring that we build more trusted, reliable and resilient supply chains in the Indo-Pacific so that there is broader and inclusive growth.

As part of the 2+2 and as again, part of our own dialogue today we had an extensive discussion on security issues. We shared growing convergences with Australia, and at the heart of it is really a shared commitment to a free, open, inclusive, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific region based on UNCLOS as the constitution of the seas. Minister Wong and I also spoke about terrorism, radicalism and extremism. Again, you would all know that we have cooperated very closely in forums, including the FATF. In terms of regional and global issues, we discussed understandably in great detail what is the current situation in West Asia or the Middle East. We spoke on our region, that is, South Asia. Minister Wong spoke to me about their region, particularly the Pacific area. We discussed Southeast Asia, ASEAN, where we actually approach it literally from the two ends, and of course, the larger Indo-Pacific region as well.

What I do want to stress is that as liberal democracies, as Quad partners, we would continue to work towards a rules-based international order. We will support freedom of navigation in international waters, promote connectivity, growth and security for all, while respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states. So, let me conclude once again by thanking Penny, Minister Wong for her presence in India today. And I know she will speak about it, but I, in anticipation, want to say that I accepted her kind invitation to visit Australia for an important event which will take place next year. So, thank you. And may I request Penny if you would make your remarks.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much Foreign Minister or External Affairs Minister Jaishankar. Can I say it's fantastic to be here in New Delhi again, and it's wonderful to have had the opportunity over a couple of days in the 2+2 and also today in the Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue to have the opportunity to engage directly with Jai. Jai was actually the first counterpart I met after being sworn in as Australia's Foreign Minister and I think we are, he is the person or the counterpart, with whom I've met most in the period I've been Australia's Foreign Minister, I think it's some eleven times if you include bilaterals, trilaterals, the Quad and other fora that we've met since, met in 2023.

This has been a milestone year in our partnership and it's critical for the net region. We are, as Dr Jaishankar said, we are comprehensive strategic partners. We're also Quad partners. We share traditions. We also share an interest in the sort of region we live in, an Indo-Pacific that is peaceful, stable and prosperous, in which sovereignty is respected and where all countries can benefit from a strategic equilibrium. We can only build and sustain this region by working with others. And I can't emphasise sufficiently how important we see India to that project. I thank Jai for his kind comments about our support on the G20. We certainly did want to ensure we worked with India as much as we were able to make it a successful G20 year. India is also hosting the Quad meeting early next year, so we equally would want to work with India to ensure that that is as successful and positive as it can be.

Today we did discuss many issues. We discussed, amongst other things, our work in the Indian Ocean region, how we can collaborate on shared challenges climate change, maritime security, the health of the oceans. We're at either end, literally, of the Indian Ocean. And we have the largest Indian Ocean coastlines of any nation. So, we share a lot. So, it's central, defining both of us, and it brings us together.

So, as Jai referenced, I'm pleased to confirm today that Australia will host the Indian Ocean Conference in Perth in February of next year. It's an opportunity to discuss practical solutions for the key challenges facing the region. And I also look forward to welcoming Jai to Australia, not only for that, but for Raisina Down Under, an event in Canberra which will follow soon after the Down Under version of the Raisina Dialogue.

We discussed today, the momentum we are seeing in our economic engagement, educational links and people-to-people ties more broadly. We're obviously working hard to expand this cooperation, including through a new 1.5 track strategic dialogue. Today I also announced an Australia-Indian Audio Visual Coproduction Agreement which has come into force, which we are very interested in and which will, we hope, open up new markets and allow more Australian and Bollywood films and series to reach new audiences. There's a lot we can discuss, but I want to close the opening remarks by again reiterating my thanks to Jai for his intellectual contribution to multilateral and regional issues, for his personal engagement and for ensuring that he is such a competent and insightful partner for us as we continue to grow this very important bilateral relationship.

Speaker: Thank you honourable Ministers, if I could open the floor for questions. Let me start. Okay, please microphone behind you. Please introduce yourself and the organisation you represent.

Journalist: Hello, Ministers, this is Risha from Times Now. My question is to External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar. Dr Jaishankar, in the meeting yesterday and today with your counterpart, was the Israel-Hamas conflict discussed? And I would take this opportunity to even ask question to you Senator. Senator, if we can ask was there commonality between the status that India and Australia take on Israel-Hamas war or are there divergence as well between the two countries on this very topic, Israel-Hamas conflict?

Dr Jaishankar: Well, we've had different occasions to put out our position because as you know, since October 7 there have been numerous conversations at the Prime Minister's level, at my level. The spokesperson has also spoken. Let me sort of stitch it all together and in a way summarise what is our position. There are different aspects of the very complex and challenging situation that we face today. One of course is terrorism, what happened on October 7. And we think nationally as well as the international community that we should never compromise terrorism. We should be very clear about it. So, therefore that basket and to it also the hostages issue. There's a second set of issues and this is the humanitarian crisis that we see in Gaza today. The need for humanitarian assistance which is very urgent and the observance of international humanitarian law there. So, that's the second set of issues and the third set of issues relate to the rights and the future of the Palestinians. That that too has to have a solution and that solution, in our view and in the view of many countries in the world, can only come from a two-state solution.

So, today I would say the consideration of the situation in West Asia is if you have these three broad sets of issues, we have to find a way by which all of them are addressed. When we hear one asserted at the expense of another, that is not really going to lead to a way forward. So, I think the challenge for all of us collectively is that how do all these facets of what is clearly a complicated issue which has a history to it, how do we deal with all of them? I think that is really what we discussed and my impression is that the Australian position is very similar to us. But I would leave Minister Penny Wong to speak for herself.

Foreign Minister: Thanks very much and thank you for the question. The first point I'd make is we are seeing a humanitarian situation in Gaza which is dire. I've described it as catastrophic and human suffering is widespread and the world is rightly engaged on this issue. In terms of what Jai has just said, we share the view that what occurred on October 7 was an act of terrorism and it needs to be unequivocally condemned. We share the view that the hostages should be released and we repeat our call for that. On the humanitarian crisis, we have taken a very clear view which we have articulated publicly about the importance of international law, the need for Israel to observe in its actions international law including the protection of civilians and on the – there's more I can say about that but I'd refer you to my other public remarks. And on the Palestinian, on the aspirations of the Palestinian people I think what this shows us is that we do need a political solution. We do need to get to a point where we see both Israeli and Palestinian peoples living in peace and security behind international borders and that progress to a two-state solution is required. I think that is clear from what has occurred. We have made other comments, including in relation to humanitarian pauses only being the first step, and made the obvious point that all of us would like to see the next steps towards a ceasefire but it can't be one-sided. And I've made those comments publicly previously. Thank you.

Speaker: Thank you, sir. May I? Sudhi, please, sir.

Journalist: Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg sir. Question to both of you. Was the Quad, the proposed Quad Summit, discussed between the two Ministers? And also, Senator, did you discuss the issue in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone where one of your Navy divers have been injured because of a Chinese destroyer? Thank you, sir.

Dr Jaishankar: Yes, we did discuss the Quad at some length. And as the Minister noted, the first time I actually met her as Minister, because I'd met you before you became a Minister as well, was actually at a Quad meeting in Tokyo, which was your first day, if I remember rightly, or second?

Foreign Minister: I was a little jetlagged, yes.

Dr Jaishankar: Yes, but the point you know which we agreed on is that the Quad has made enormous progress in the last few years. In fact, every meeting has added to the agenda of the Quad, to the substance of the Quad. So, there's really a very broad range of issues today that we are cooperating on. But that said, there is a natural inclination to push the envelope, to find new convergences, to explore fresh areas of cooperation. And a lot of our conversation today, because we are preparing really for a Quad meeting sometime early next year, and our discussions really centred around what more could we do to add to the Quad. I think we had some ideas between us, which you'll, of course, see in due course when the Quad meets.

Foreign Minister: Well, thank you. We do require, one of the important components or aspects of our partnership with India is obviously our partnership in the context of the Quad and rightly that had occupied a fair degree of our discussion, as Dr Jaishankar has outlined. And we look forward to the next meeting and we look forward to the Quad's continued contribution to the region we want to live in and to the betterment of the peoples of the region. In relation to the incident to which you refer, I'd make a few points. The first is that the safety and wellbeing of Australian Defence personnel is our utmost priority. The second point I'd make is to again reiterate that we have raised our serious concerns with the Chinese authorities, following what was, we regard as unsafe and unprofessional interaction with the PLA Navy Destroyer. I would again make the point that these events occurred within Japan's EEZ and in international waters. And Australia's principal position is that we expect all countries, including ourselves, to operate militaries in a safe and a professional manner.

Speaker: Thank you. Yeshi, please. Microphone.

Journalist: Good afternoon, this is Yeshi Seli from the New Indian Express. Senator Wong had mentioned yesterday that China, for both India and Australia was the biggest trade partner and the biggest security anxiety. Can you elaborate a bit on that? And what caused security anxiety also?

Foreign Minister: I'm not sure I'd use the phrase anxiety, but that's okay. Look, I think one of the things we do share is we are both countries in a region – obviously, India is substantially larger than we are – a region which is undergoing a lot of change and we want to be part of shaping and influencing that change. We use the phrase peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. I think Jai has a slightly different formulation, but they essentially are the same objective.

We also recognise that China's importance and place in the region and globally and we continue to engage with China. Certainly we both have a very substantive economic relationship with China and China is a country with whom we will continue to engage. The way in which we describe it is we will cooperate where we can and there are areas where we can, we will disagree where we must and we will engage in our national interests and that is the way in which we have described our approach to the relationship with China.

Journalist: My question is to Foreign Minister Jaishankar. Sir, was a diplomatic standoff between India and Canada discussed?

Dr Jaishankar: Well, I don't know if that's the word I would use, but did we discuss issues between India and Canada? Yes, I spoke about it to Minister Wong. And as you know, Australia has a good, strong, close relationship with both of us. So, I felt it was important that Australia get our perspective on the issue. And you know that from our point of view, the key issue is really the space which has been given to extremism and radicalism in Canada. So, therefore, the short answer is yes, we discussed it. Yes, I spoke to her about our perspective and she did listen to me very carefully.

Foreign Minister: I do always listen to the External Affairs Minister carefully. Look, I'd point you to my previous comments in relation to this matter, which I've responded to it on a number of occasions. Thank you.

Speaker: Take one last question. Sorry. So, do you have time for a couple of questions?

Journalist: Minister Wong, this is Kallol Bhattacherjee from The Hindu. Since you talked about the two-state solution, I wanted to get back to it and ask you, for the two-state solution would you also clarify your position as far as the Israeli settlements are concerned or what's really Australian position on the Israeli settlements that are eroding the Palestinian territory over the years? And also would you prefer Israel to go back to the 1967 borders?

Foreign Minister: First, the matter of borders, I think by definition is a subject of negotiation in the context of a two-state solution. But on the issue of settlements, yes, I can be very clear that Australia has, under this Government, asserted, expressed its view that the settlements are contrary to international law and unhelpful to progress towards a two-state solution.

Speaker: I think we are out of time, sir. And thank you all for joining us. Thank you very much for joining us.

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