Threats posed by China also discussed’: Lloyd Austin on India, US 2+2 dialogue | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Threats posed by China also discussed’: Lloyd Austin on India, US 2+2 dialogue

Nov 10, 2023 08:20 PM IST

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said the challenge that China presents figured but the relationship between the two countries wasn’t just based on Beijing

NEW DELHI: India and the US on Friday explored new ways to expand their strategic partnership to safeguard a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of the challenge from an assertive China, even as the two sides unveiled plans to jointly develop and manufacture an armoured infantry vehicle.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, from left, secretary of state Antony Blinken, India's defence minister Rajnath Singh and foreign minister S Jaishankar leave after a group photo as part of "2+2 Dialogue" at the foreign ministry in New Delhi (AP)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, from left, secretary of state Antony Blinken, India's defence minister Rajnath Singh and foreign minister S Jaishankar leave after a group photo as part of "2+2 Dialogue" at the foreign ministry in New Delhi (AP)

The fifth annual 2+2 ministerial dialogue, co-chaired by defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar and their American counterparts Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken, encompassed issues ranging from the defence industry partnership to counter-terrorism and cutting-edge technologies in sectors such as semiconductors and critical minerals.

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The dialogue built on several initiatives unveiled during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June – when the two sides agreed on the co-production of engines to power India’s new combat jets and the supply of 31 MQ-9B Reaper drones – and also focused on ways to deepen cooperation in areas such as space, education and health.

Jaishankar, in his opening remarks at the meeting, said the dialogue is an opportunity to “advance the vision of our respective leaders, building a forward-looking partnership while we construct a shared global agenda”. Singh added the India-US bilateral relationship has “seen a growing convergence of strategic interests”.

Austin said it is more important than ever for the world’s two largest democracies to find common goals in the face of urgent global challenges. “We’re integrating our industrial bases, strengthening our interoperability and sharing cutting-edge technology. The scope of our cooperation is vast, it stretches from the seabed to space,” he added.

Jaishankar also said that ahead of a Quad leaders’ summit to be hosted by India early next year, a key focus of the discussions would be the Indo-Pacific. Blinken noted the two countries are promoting a free, open, prosperous, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific, including by strengthening their partnership through the Quad.

“One significant way we’re doing that is by enhancing maritime domain awareness, sharing commercial satellite data with countries in the region to boost their capacity...to combat illegal fishing, piracy and drug trafficking,” he said.

Austin told a media briefing after the meeting that the two sides had agreed to “move forward with the co-production of armoured infantry vehicles”.

Defence secretary Giridhar Aramane told a separate news briefing that the infantry combat vehicle is part of a bilateral defence industry cooperation roadmap to co-develop and co-produce machinery, equipment and weapons.

“The initial offer on several infantry combat vehicle systems has come from the US. We have expressed our interest in discussing [this] further to take the co-development and co-production part ahead,” Aramane said, adding that this will take some time as the industrial and military teams of both countries will have to frame a concrete plan.

Both Austin and Aramane said the plans for co-production of General Electric’s GE F-414 jet engine and to supply the MQ-9B drones to India were on track. Aramane said the two sides are finalising the commercial arrangement and putting in place legal requirements for manufacturing the jet engine. “This is on track, it will happen as was originally scheduled,” he said.

The Indian side has given the “letter of request” for the Reaper drones and the US has to respond. “The US company has to take clearance from their government and come back to us,” Aramane said.

Austin further said that the “rising security challenges” and threats posed by China figured in the 2+2 dialogue and that the US and India have a common view of ensuring that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open and that “we should be able to sail the international seas and fly international airspace wherever authorised by law”.

He added, “But our relationship is not just based on China, on the challenge that China presents. It’s based upon shared values [as] two of the world’s largest democracies...We’ve talked about a number of things, to include not only military cooperation, but scientific cooperation, space cooperation.”

Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said many new areas had been opened up in space cooperation following India’s signing of the Artemis Accords. One new dimension is commercial space cooperation and the two sides will set up a joint working group comprising representatives of ISRO, NASA and other US government entities to take forward this collaboration.

There have also been discussions on India’s engagement in the human space flight programme for the international space station, and agencies of the two sides will take forward this cooperation, Kwatra said.

A joint statement issued after the meeting said the two sides would strengthen their defence partnership through dialogues and military exercises of increasing complexity and sophistication, as well as accelerated joint projects under the June 2023 Roadmap for India-US Defence Industrial Cooperation.

Both sides will work to ramp up investment in India’s growing maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) sector, which includes aircraft maintenance and repair of US naval vessels. They welcomed commitments by the US industry to increase India’s MRO capabilities, including for repairing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The ministers pledged to implement commitments by Modi and President Joe Biden to “undertake regular efforts to address export control issues while expanding defence industrial cooperation”. This will be done through discussions on export control and technology transfers in the Strategic Trade Dialogue.

The ministers also looked forward to the finalisation of a “Security of Supply Arrangement”, which will help integrate the defence industrial ecosystems of both countries and strengthen supply chain resilience.

In the field of counter-terrorism, the two sides condemned terrorism and violent extremism, and the use of terrorist proxies and logistical, financial or military support to terror groups, which can be used to launch attacks. They also reiterated their condemnation of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the Pathankot attack and called for bringing the perpetrators of these assaults to justice.

The ministers sought concerted action against all terrorists, including through designations of individuals affiliated with groups listed by the UN Security Council’s 1267 Sanctions Committee, such as al-Qaeda, Daesh, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

The Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas conflict also figured in the dialogue. The joint statement said the ministers of both sides expressed deep concern over the Ukraine war and its humanitarian consequences. “They again underscored the growing impacts of this war on the global economic system and food security, with consequences predominantly affecting the Global South,” it said.

While noting the “horrific terrorist attacks” against Israel, the ministers said India and the US “stand with Israel against terrorism and called for adherence to international humanitarian law, including with regard to the protection of civilians”.

The two sides called for the immediate release of all remaining hostages, and said they will coordinate with partners in the region on humanitarian aid to meet the urgent needs of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. “They expressed support for humanitarian pauses and committed to continue close diplomatic coordination, including with key partners in the region, to prevent the conflict from spreading, preserve stability in the Middle East, and work toward a political solution and durable peace,” the joint statement said.

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