Sharing with New Delhi its concern over China’s aggressive behaviour against its allies and partners, the United States today affirmed its commitment to a “comprehensive forward-looking defence partnership” with India as a central pillar of its approach to the Indo- Pacific region.

“India is an increasingly important partner in today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics. And it’s clear that the importance of this (Indo-US) partnership, and its impact to the international rules based order will only grow in the years ahead,” visiting US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said at a joint press interaction with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh after talks between the two leaders.

Without directly naming China, he said that despite today’s challenging security environment, the partnership between the USA and India, the world’s two largest democracies, remained resilient and strong. “We will seek every opportunity to build upon this major partnership,” he assured New Delhi.

The two ministers had a one-on-one meeting lasting nearly half-an-hour, followed by delegation level talks. The Indian delegation included Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat and the three services chiefs. Among other issues, Mr Austin discussed with Singh Chinese aggressive actions in eastern Ladakh, the ceasefire agreement with Pakistan and situation in Afghanistan.

The two delegations are understood to have discussed ways to further deepen the defence and strategic partnership, keeping in mind the emerging threats, particularly in Afghanistan and the Indo- Pacific region.

Mr Austin, who had last night met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, welcomed Mr Modi’s statement that India stood for “freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to international law.” Mr Modi’s statement, he said, was a resounding affirmation of the two countries’ shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The breadth of collaboration between our two nations reflects the significance of our major defence partnership as we work together to address the most pressing challenges facing the Indo- Pacific region.”

He said he had discussed with the Indian side the engagement with like-minded partners through multilateral groupings such as Quad and ASEAN as the Indo-Pacific faces acute transnational challenges.

In his statement, the Indian defence minister said the discussions between the two sides focused on their wide ranging defence cooperation and expanding military level engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence and mutual logistics support.

“India is committed to further consolidate our robust defence partnership with the US. I look forward to working with you closely to make the India- US relationship one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” he said.

Singh said that the recent leaders’ summit of India, the USA, Japan and Australia under the ‘Quad’ framework emphasised their resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.