US Def Secy in Delhi to face Indo-Pacific ‘pressing challenges’

New Delhi, March 19 (IANS) US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived here on Friday for discussions on cooperating to face “most pressing challenges” in the Indo-Pacific.
The first visit by a member of US President Joe Biden’s cabinet to India came as leaders of the US and China clashed at a meeting in Alaska symbolising the growing aggressiveness by China.
It is particularly seen in the Indo-Pacific region and the US is responding by working closely with allies and partners.
India has seen a year of violent attacks by Chinese military against India along the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas.
Austin tweeted: “Thrilled to be here in India. The breadth of cooperation 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 is scheduled to hold discussions with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
The Pentagon said that he will also be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On his arrival in New Delhi, Austin was met by representatives of the three India armed forces and by US Defence Attache in New Delhi, Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher.
The visit reflects President Biden’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region to meet the Chinese challenge.
Last week Biden held a virtual summit with other leaders of the Quad, Prime Ministers Modi of India, Scott Morrison of Australia and Yoshihide Suga of Japan, at which they discussed security issues in the face of Chinese aggressive actions.
Before coming to India, Austin had visited two US treaty allies, Japan and South Korea, on the frontlines of Chinese aggressiveness at sea in the region, and the military headquarters of the Indo-Pacific headquarters in Hawaii.
He and Secretary of State Antony Blinken held 2+2 ministerial meetings with their counterparts in Seoul and Tokyo.
The meeting of Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan with senior Chinese officials, State Councilor Wang Yi and Communist Party Foreign Affairs Director Yang Jiechi opened on Thursday in Anchorage, Alaska, with open hostility.
Blinken said: “We will always stand up for our principles for our people, and for our friends.”
Yi retorted that the US was trying to “obstruct normal trade exchanges and incite some countries to attack China”.
Outlining Austin’s agenda in India, Acting Assistant Defence Secretary for Indo-Pacific, David Helvey, said that he will “discuss operationalising the major defence partnership that we have with India, including through enhanced information sharing, regional security cooperation, defence trade, and cooperation in new domains.”
The Indian Defence Ministry said that Singh and Austin “are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”
It added, “Discussions regarding defence cooperation would also focus on how both countries could consolidate military-to-military cooperation and defence trade and industry cooperation.”

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