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Claiming that China has intensified its efforts to challenge the rules-based international order in both the Pacific and Indian Ocean, United States (US) secretary of defense Lloyd J Austin has said that he is grateful for India’s friendship and is keen to work together to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.

A view of an EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) and VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail). (HT File)
A view of an EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) and VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail). (HT File)

The secretary made the remarks while welcoming external affairs S Jaishankar for a meeting at the Pentagon on Monday.

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The two countries, according to a department of defense statement after the meeting, committed to “expanding information-sharing and logistics cooperation to drive deeper operational coordination between the U.S. and Indian militaries”, discussed new opportunities for bilateral industrial defence cooperation in support of India’s role as a “regional security provider”, and agreed to step up collaboration with Japan, Australia and European partners.

Jaishankar, who is visiting Washington DC on the final leg of his US visit after wrapping up his engagements in New York, said that defence and security cooperation was a key pillar of the India-US partnership.

In his opening remarks, Jaishankar said that the two countries had seen ties deepen through “closer policy exchanges, through coordination in policies…in growing defence trade, in stronger defence industrial collaboration and in military exercises”. He added, “But the the ripple impact of our business cooperation, I think, has a larger beneficiary implication. So for me, our meeting today and my presence here today is of particular importance.”

The minister also acknowledged that the global situation had become more challenging due to a variety of reasons. “In particular, it’s important that the stability, security and prosperity of the Indo Pacific should be secured. That is best done amongst others by cooperation between our countries.”

After the meeting, Jaishankar tweeted, “We noted the steady progress in policy exchange, interoperability, defense trade, service exercises and military-industrial cooperation. Exchanged perspectives on the Ukraine conflict, Indo-Pacific developments, maritime challenges and regional issues.”

The US was more forthcoming both in his opening remarks and the readout of the meeting.

Austin recalled his recent conversation with defence minister Rajnath Singh and said that these conversations reinforced the “growing depth, breadth and ambition of our partnership”, and said the partnership was moving from “strength to strength”.

“Today, we are positioning the US and Indian militaries to operate and coordinate more closely together than ever. And we’re taking sufficient steps, significant steps to deepen our defence cooperation from stronger information sharing and defence industrial ties to cooperation in emerging defence domains, including through the launch of a new dialogue later this year. All this will help ensure that our militaries are ready.”

Austin then acknowledged the growing bilateral collaboration in other domains, including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and collaboration with Japan and Australia to deliver on issues that “matter most to the region”, from maritime security to infrastructure development.

It was in this backdrop that he said that sustaining the region’s security was “especially important now” and explicitly mentioned China. “In recent months, we have seen the PRC intensify its efforts to challenge the rules based international order from its unprecedented provocations in the Taiwan Strait to its actions in the Indian Ocean. The PRC continues to support Russia amid its unprovoked and cruel invasion of Ukraine.”

But these “sustained challenges to peace, security and prosperity in the region and beyond” only reaffirmed the importance of the India-US partnership, Austin said.

In the readout after the meeting, Pentagon said that the two leaders had “reviewed priority lines of effort” to deepen bilateral defence cooperation, as the US and India progressed “toward a more advanced stage in their partnership”.

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder added that that the two had also agreed to “expanding information-sharing and logistics cooperation to drive deeper operational coordination between the U.S. and Indian militaries”.

“They also discussed new opportunities for bilateral defense industrial cooperation in support of India’s contributions as a regional security provider, including the launch of a new defense dialogue later this year as the United States and India work more closely together across space, cyber, artificial intelligence, and other technology areas.”

The US said that Austin and Jaishankar had also underscored value of the deepening collaboration between the United States, India, Australia, Japan, and European partners. “In this context, the United States looks forward to working with India and like-minded partners to promote security, prosperity, and transparency throughout the region, including through the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness.” The maritime domain awareness initiative was launched at the last Quad leaders summit in Tokyo in May 2022.

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