US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday described the recent visit of Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat to the Pentagon as “historic” and said they have reaffirmed their enduring commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Gen Rawat’s visit to the US took place a week after the maiden in-person meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden at the White House during which both leaders reaffirmed the need for greater military-to-military cooperation between India and the US.
“It was an honour to meet Indian Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rawat during his historic visit to the Pentagon last week,” Austin said. ‘We reaffirmed our enduring commitment to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and discussed ways to drive greater interoperability between the US and Indian armed forces,” Austin said in a tweet.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that Gen Rawat and Austin exchanged views on priorities for advancing the US-India defence partnership, including through enhanced cooperation in new defense domains such as space, cyber, and emerging technologies. “Austin underscored the US commitment to supporting the Indian Armed Forces’ transition toward greater institutional integration and operational jointness. They also discussed opportunities for expanding multilateral cooperation with regional partners,” he said.
“This historic meeting highlights the enduring strength of the US-India Major Defence Partnership as the two countries work in concert with like-minded partners to sustain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Kirby said. On September 24, President Biden hosted the first-ever in-person summit of Quad leaders that vowed to strive for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, inclusive, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion, sending an apparent message to China.
At the invitation of President Biden, Prime Minister Modi and his counterparts Scott Morrison from Australia and Yoshihide Suga from Japan attended the Quad summit. India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military manoeuvring in the resource-rich region.
China claims nearly all the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea. During his visit to the Pentagon, Gen Rawat also met his US counterpart Gen Mark Milley, and they discussed a range of issues, including ways to ensure regional security and their respective roles as principal military advisors to the civilian leadership.