In the first high-level engagement between the Modi government and the Joe Biden administration, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday and exchanged views on pressing regional and global issues including developments in the Indo-Pacific. The defence ministry said Singh received an "introductory telephone call" from the newly-appointed US Secretary of Defence Austin and that the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to strengthen the "multifaceted" defence cooperation and the strategic partnership between the two countries.
Official sources said China figured in the talks in the larger context of geo-political developments, and in relations to the strategic interests of India and the US in the Indo-Pacific region. The essence of the conversation was that both sides wanted to maintain the upward trajectory of the strategic and defence ties to advance their common agenda of peace, prosperity and growth, the sources said. In a tweet, Singh said the firm commitment to deepen India-US defence cooperation was reiterated during the talks.
"Spoke with my US counterpart, Secretary Def Austin and conveyed my warm wishes on his appointment," Singh tweeted. "We reiterated our firm commitment to deepen India-US defence cooperation. We exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interest to strengthen our strategic partnership," he said.
It is not immediately known whether the eastern Ladakh standoff between India and China was discussed in the talks. Three days back, Austin spoke to his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi during which China's growing activities in East China Sea figured prominently. The Indo-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years and in June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner". The two countries have also inked key defence and security pacts over the past few years, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provides for deeper cooperation.
The two sides have also signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India. In October last year, India and the US sealed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties. The pact provides for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.