News24: Cricket World Cup is under way right now and you have informed that India will be helping Maldives in setting up a cricket team. What kind of help would it be, is there any particular player being sent there and is BCCI going to do everything there, what kind of information you would like to share with us on this?
The Print: If you can say something on if there will be any discussion on the action plan for defence cooperation between India and Maldives and also there are reports that India is building the Colombo port along with Japan, if you shed some light on that please?
Foreign Secretary, Vijay Gokhale: As far as cricket cooperation is concerned, a team from BCCI visited the Maldives earlier this month. There are a whole range of ways in which we can assist. One of them is to build a cricket stadium under a line of credit or some other means of financial assistance, which we are ready to do. They have requested for some coaching programmes in India of young Maldivian players that includes both men and women. They would like us to do some training programmes in the Maldives which we are also willing to do and we have actually already given them some cricket kits and training kits. These have been actually given by the government of India not by the BCCI but we would hope that the BCCI takes on additional responsibilities in this regard.
They want to have training in coaches, in umpires, scorers, match referees, so across the board, till we can we will assist the government of Maldives to build a national cricket team or to bring cricket to a national level. We see this as an important people to people relationship building exercise in the same way that we did for Afghanistan, if you recall, a few years ago.
So far as the action plan on defence cooperation is concerned, there are a few issues that we have already resolved which is, if you recall, there were some issues that we had with the previous regime to the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) that we have stationed for search and rescue operations. That matter has been resolved to mutual satisfaction. By the way, the Coastal Surveillance Radar System and the CTC are also under this action plan on defence cooperation. We have recently refurbished one of their coastguard vessels, the Maldives ship Huravi and we will also continue to maintain that for them. So a number of action points are already ongoing. As far as ISIS influence is concerned, of course this is a matter of concern for us. We have seen reports of alleged activity in many parts of South Asia. We are ready to cooperate with those governments and any other government that wishes to cooperate. Naturally the demand and the kind of cooperation that they desire has to come from them and on receipt of that information, as I said, our government will be happy to cooperate with them on that.
Further, you know this is a trilateral arrangement that India, Japan and Sri Lanka will do in the East container terminal of the Colombo port. So we have reached an initial agreement what is called a Memorandum of Intent for a trilateral arrangement under which the Sri Lankan Port Authority which is the PSU under the government of Sri Lanka will hold the majority share and the remaining share will be held between entities of Japan and India.
The exact shareholding pattern still has to be worked out but the intention now is that we will now go into discussion about the scope of the port, the manner of the financing, the time line and so on. This is an important achievement and the fact that we are partnering with Japan is also, in a sense, not something just of bilateral significance but shows that we are willing to partner with other countries in developing infrastructure in our region.
Zee News: You said that some of the issue of previous regime have been solved. During the last regime it was seen that Indians living in Maldives were facing certain issues, so have they been solved now?
Reuters: Is this a strategy of India to partner with Japan to counter the rising influence of China in Sri Lanka or maybe are we going to our neighborhood to address that issue with Maldives as well?
Vijay Gokhale: As far as first question is concerned, this is an important subject and this is something which we have taken up both with the previous government and the current government. I am happy to inform you we have very positive information on this from the current government. A number of work permit related issues that were held up, has been wholly or almost wholly addressed. We are also in discussion in ensuring that the future work permit process is smoothened out. So this is certainly a priority for us and we are in constant discussion with them. It may not necessarily figure at the highest level because we have a good working understanding between the foreign ministries of the two countries on this issue.
As far as the last question is concerned, I don’t think we should see our cooperation with any country in our region as necessarily having some ulterior motive or being directed against another country or being part of some grand strategy. I think our objective is that infrastructure development in our region benefits our economy and the economy of that country. We recognise that we have limited capabilities, within those capabilities we are making all efforts bilaterally but when major foreign investors like Japan are also willing to join projects that are of our national interest, we have no objection in doing it with them. This is a model I can say you will see not just in Sri Lanka but in the coming days in a couple of other neighbouring countries as well.
Edited excerpts from a briefing by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on the PM’s ongoing visit to Sri Lanka and Maldives, 6 June in New Delhi