New Delhi (NVI): US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin today described India as an “increasingly important partner” in the “rapidly-shifting international dynamics” as he discussed with his counterpart Rajnath Singh the opportunities to elevate the ‘Major Defence Partnership’ status of the country through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions and military trade.
With particular focus on the Indo-Pacific region where China has been expressing belligerence, Austin said that in view of “the challenges to a free and open regional order, cooperation among like-minded countries is imperative to securing our shared vision for the future.”
On his first visit here, Austin said after his talks with Singh that the US-India relationship is a “stronghold of a free and open” Indo-Pacific region.
The US Secretary of Defence, who arrived here last evening and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval last soon after, said, “India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly-shifting international dynamics.”
On his talks with Singh, he said, “I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region.”
He said, “As the world faces a global pandemic and growing challenges to an open and stable international system, the US-India relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
Prime Minister Modi has stated that India stands for ‘freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to international law’, Austin noted and said, “This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific.”
The US Secretary of Defence added that, “it’s clear that the importance of this partnership, and its impact to the international rules-based order will only grow in the years ahead. Our work today is grounded in our shared values and converging strategic interests.”
Regarding his talks with Singh, Austin said, “We discussed opportunities to elevate the US-India Major Defence Partnership (status)..a priority of the Biden- Harris Administration.. through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defence trade.”
In addition, he said, “We are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including information-sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence; and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber.”
He said the two leaders also discussed engagement with like-minded partners through multilateral groupings such as the Quad and ASEAN.
“As the Indo-Pacific region faces acute transnational challenges, such as climate change, and challenges to a free and open regional order, cooperation among like-minded countries is imperative to securing our shared vision for the future,” Austin said.
“Despite today’s challenging security environment, the partnership between the United States and India… the world’s two largest democracies… remains resilient and strong. And we will seek every opportunity to build upon this major partnership,” he added.
Rajnath Singh said, “We are keen to work together to realise the full potential of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.”
The Indian Defence Minister said the discussions focussed on wide ranging defence cooperation and expanding military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence, and mutual logistics support.
“We reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command,” he said.
“Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA, we discussed steps to be taken to realise their full potential for mutual benefit,” Singh said.
He said he invited US industry to take advantage of India’s liberalized foreign direct investment (FDI) policies in the defence sector. “We both agreed that there are opportunities for collaboration in defence industry.”
Referring to the recent Leaders’ Summit of India, USA, Japan and Australia under the Quad framework, Singh said it “emphasized our resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”
He said the two leaders discussed the need for enhanced capacity building to address some of the non-traditional challenges such as oil spills and environment disasters, drug trafficking, Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing, etc.
“India is committed to further consolidate our robust defence partnership with the United States. I look forward to working with you closely to make the India-US relationship one of the defining partnerships of 21st century,” Singh said.