India on Saturday resolved to intensify defence cooperation with the US Central Command in Florida and with the US Commands in the Indo-Pacific region and Africa. The announcement in this regard was made by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who held talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense General (Retd.) Lloyd James Austin III who described the partnership as a “central pillar” of the American policy for the Indo-Pacific.
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“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. 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,” said Mr. Singh at a joint meeting with the media at the Vigyan Bhavan. He said the bilateral discussion covered “military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence, and mutual logistics support”.
Earlier in the day, the visiting Secretary of Defense paid tributes at the National War Memorial and laid a wreath. He arrived here on Friday and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “India in particular is an increasingly important partner among today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics. I reaffirm our commitment to a comprehensive and forward looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar to our approach to the region,” said Mr. Austin who is on a three-day visit on his first trip after taking charge on January 22 as part of the Biden-Harris administration.
Mr. Austin’s visit is crucial as it comes in the midst of expectations that the U.S. is likely to deliver a message over India’s plans to acquire the Russian S-400 missile defence system in the coming months. The move could attract U.S. sanctions under a law named CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).
In a clear hint to Beijing’s growing military activities in the South China Sea region, Mr. Austin said the India-U.S. defence partnership will ‘grow’ in the coming years. “The relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. PM Modi has stated that India stands for freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce and adherence to international law. This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific.”
Reflecting the American policy, Mr. Singh drew attention to the recent Leaders’ Summit of India, U.S., Japan and Australia under the Quadrilateral Framework and emphasised the collective “resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region”. He said both sides also discussed non-traditional challenges like “oil spills and environment disasters, drug trafficking, Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing”.
Mr. Singh also welcomed U.S. industry and said it should take “advantage of India’s liberalised foreign direct investment policies in the defence sector”.