NEW DELHI – India and the U.S. on Tuesday discussed deepening defense ties and enhancing trade and technology cooperation, with Washington expressing interest in expanding maritime security engagement amid China’s growing aggression in South China sea.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis, the first high-ranking official of the Trump Administration to visit India, met Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and held talks with her in the South Block.
Later, the two addressed a joint media conference where Mattis said the focus was on enhancing the defense relations between the two countries, with the U.S. viewing India as a regional stabilizer.
In an apparent reference to China, which has disputes with its maritime neighbors in the South China sea, both India and the U.S. favored maintaining an “open, just and rules-based order”.
“A peaceful and prosperous future in the Indo-Pacific region is based on a strong rules-based international order and a shared commitment to international law, peaceful resolution of disputes and respect for territorial integrity,” Mattis said.
Sharing his concerns, Sitharaman said: “We also believe that disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law. I am happy to note that Secretary Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. position in support of these principles.
“I also welcome his reiteration of the U.S. commitment to work with India in ensuring maritime security in the lndo-Pacific and as first responder to HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations,” she said.
She said the two discussed issues relating to maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the broader Asia-Pacific Region as well as regional connectivity. “India supports the freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce.”
Their statements came amid China’s growing aggression in the South China sea and its growing presence in the Indian Ocean.
Mattis said the U.S. valued India’s leadership across the Indo-Pacific.
“India has vital role to play in supporting South East Asia’s Regional Institutions – particularly ASEAN – and in building partner capacity across the region. We appreciate India’s leadership in the Indian Ocean and we seek to work together to build a resilient regional architecture,” Mattis said.
Declaring that expanding maritime engagement was one of his top priorities, the Defense Secretary said the U.S.-India Malabar naval exercise with Japan was an example of the deepening cooperation.
“I look forward to opportunities to increase our engagements based on shared maritime objectives and explore new exercises,” he said.
The U.S. expressed interest in deepening the trade and technology collaborations under the Make in India framework.
Sitharaman said India and the U.S. have “agreed that the full implementation of the understanding reached following the announcement by the US last year recognizing India as a Major Defense Partner”.
She said India and the US have agreed they need to expand on the progress already made by encouraging co-production and co-development efforts.
“I reiterated India’s deep interest in enhancing defense manufacturing in India under Prime Minister’s Make-in-India program,” she said.
Mattis said the US looked forward to sharing “some of our most advanced defense technologies through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)”.
He said the aim of his visit was to promote “pragmatic progress” between the two countries.
“US-India defence cooperation has steadily expanded in recent years, underpinned by a strategic convergence between our two countries based on common objectives and goals in the region,” he said.
On Pyongyang, Mattis appreciated India’s effort along with the international community to increase pressure against North Korea over its “dangerous and destabilising behaviour”.
Answering a question, Mattis said US wanted to resolve the North Korea issue through diplomatic means.