New Delhi: Amid increasing Chinese aggression, India and the US Saturday called for deepening of defence ties both at the bilateral and multilateral levels to realise the full potential of the relationship and to “meet present and future challenges”.
Terming India as the central pillar to its policy for the Indo-Pacific region, the Biden administration stressed on the need to build on this aspect.
Following delegation-level talks between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the visiting US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, both countries identified artificial intelligence, information sharing, logistics, space and cyber besides expanding military-to-military engagement across services as key areas of cooperation.
“India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics. And I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defense partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region,” Llyod Austin said, reading out a statement at Vigyan Bhawan where the talks were held.
Without naming China, Austin said the Indo-US relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“PM Modi stated India stands for freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce in adherence to international law,” he added. “This reaffirms our shared vision for regional security.”
Austin said that the aim is to build a “partnership fit for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges”.
Austin’s visit show US’ commitment to ties: Rajnath
On his part, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Austin’s visit to India despite the Covid-19 pandemic, showed the United States’ abiding commitment to the bilateral relationship.
“I am happy to inform you that we had a comprehensive and fruitful discussion with Secretary Austin and his delegation,” Singh said. “We are keen to work together to realise the full potential of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.”
He 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 added. “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 also invited the US industry to take advantage of “India’s liberalised foreign direct investment (FDI) policies in the defence sector”.
We both agreed that there are opportunities for collaboration in the defence industry, he said.
Referring to the recent leaders’ summit of India, USA, Japan and Australia under the Quad framework, which emphasised a joint resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, Singh said the discussion with Austin also catered to 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, among others.
“India is committed to further consolidate our robust defence partnership with the United States,” he added. “I look forward to working with you closely to make the India-US relationship one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”
Better strategic ties
Austin, who arrived in the national capital Friday evening, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
In his meeting with Modi, he conveyed the Biden administration’s strong desire to further deepen strategic ties with India to address the pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific.
Almost all key issues of mutual concerns, including China’s aggressive behaviour in the region, are learnt to have figured in the deliberations between Austin and Doval.
In his statement, Austin also said he discussed with Singh opportunities to elevate the US-India major defence partnership.
“(This is) a priority of the Biden-Harris administration… through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defense trade,” he said.
We also discussed engagement with like-minded partners through multilateral groupings such as the Quad and ASEAN, he added.
Austin said that 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 shared vision for the future.
“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 said.