The US sought to further defence co-operation with India as part of President Joe Biden’s push to develop ties with Asian partners as differences with China increase.
Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin held talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on Saturday focusing on elevating the US-India defence partnership through regional security co-operation, military interactions and defence trade.
He met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, and was due to meet Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
“India in particular is an increasingly important partner among rapidly shifting international dynamics,” Mr Austin said at a joint press briefing with Mr Singh after the talks.
Mr Singh later tweeted that the meeting was “excellent” and praised what he called a “strategic partnership”.
“I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region,” Mr Austin said.
“In addition we are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration including information sharing, logistics and artificial intelligence and co-operation in new domains such as space and cyber.”
Mr Austin’s visit to New Delhi after talks in Tokyo and South Korea last week follows an online summit on March 12, the first meeting between Mr Biden and leaders of the so-called Quad partners India, Australia and Japan, each of which has concerns about China.
References in a statement released after the meeting to an “open” Indo-Pacific region and shared security interests indicated the talks were a show of unity against Beijing.
Mr Biden’s administration has prioritised Indo-Pacific partnerships at a time when the US’s differences with Beijing are deepening. US and Chinese officials traded acrimony and accusations over two days of talks in Anchorage, Alaska, this week.
While New Delhi and Beijing have moved back troops from a part of their disputed Himalayan borders, tension between the neighbours that began in May 2020 continue to simmer.
The US is seeking to deepen military co-operation and intelligence sharing with India by effecting two of the three foundational agreements between the two sides – the Basic Exchange and Co-operation Agreement and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement – that were signed in October last year.
India needs to equip some of its platforms with secure military communication equipment among other things needed to initiate the agreements.
Mr Singh said the two sides discussed expanding cooperation between the Indian military and US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command. They also spoke about optimising agreements signed on logistics exchange, basic exchange and co-operation and communications compatibility and security, Mr Singh said at the press conference.