The visit of United States (US) defence secretary Lloyd Austin, who met his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, on Monday, sets the stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State visit to Washington DC later this month, an important event that will underscore India’s ability to deepen its relationship with the US even as it remains invested in other multilateral formations involving actors and nations bitterly opposed to each other. On the agenda will be critical and meaningful cooperation on a raft of issues, ranging from technology and defence procurement to ironing out visa glitches and delays, and containing China’s expansionism in the Indo-Pacific.
The visit also highlights how New Delhi and Washington DC have slowly but surely ramped up defence cooperation. As this newspaper noted recently, the two countries have built intelligence-sharing channels and assessment capabilities to better identify and prepare for threats; developed access agreements for military logistics to support each other’s reach; and conducted regular military exercises to improve our capabilities and interoperability.
Of course, this bolstering of the relationship — especially in the realm of defence — comes against the backdrop of Beijing’s moves on its borders with India and in the Indo-Pacific. Mr Austin said as much during the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore over the weekend, when he vowed that Washington DC would not stand for any “coercion and bullying” of its allies and partners by China. By focussing on the nuts-and-bolts of the defence partnership, Mr Singh and Mr Austin have now paved the way for their respective bosses to take the relationship forward and build an effective counter response to China.