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China in focus during Rajnath-Austin meeting in Cambodia

A file photo of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin meeting in Siem Reap (Image courtesy: Twitter/@RajnathSingh)

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin met on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Cambodia’s Siem Reap, on Tuesday.

Talks between the two came at a time when Austin had made it clear that regional security is especially important right now due to China’s “increasing bellicosity” and Beijing intensifying its efforts to challenge the rules-based international order.

Interestingly, Austin met Singh just after holding discussions with Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe.

The US Defence Secretary had last spoken to Singh over the phone on September 26 – the day he received External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in the Pentagon – and mentioned that the military cooperation between the two nations is at an all-time high.

These conversations, he said then, reinforce a growing depth, breadth and ambition of partnership between the two nations which is moving from strength to strength.

Both countries, as Austin had said in September, are also taking significant steps to deepen defence cooperation from stronger information sharing and defence industrial ties to cooperation in emerging defence domains, including through the launch of a new dialogue later this year.

On Tuesday, Singh looked forward to building a roadmap towards greater defence industrial collaboration between India and US.

“He highlighted India’s growing expertise in aircraft maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) and ship-building, repairs and refits and suggested specific areas where US defence companies can look for technology cooperation and manufacturing opportunities with Indian partners in India,” said a statement from the Indian Defence Ministry later in the day.

“The two leaders expressed their commitment towards an inclusive and rules-based Indo Pacific with freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded trade. They further discussed initiatives that can be taken to strengthen maritime cooperation between the two countries including in maritime domain awareness. Both leaders also shared their perspectives on the regional security situation,” it added.


Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Cambodian Defence Minister General Samdech Pichey Sena Tea BanhSingh began Tuesday by reviewing the full range of India-Cambodia defence ties during a “fruitful meeting” with the host country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, General Samdech Pichey Sena Tea Banh.

This is the first in-person meeting of the ASEAN’s Defence Ministerial Meeting Plus since 2019 — the only forum where Indo-Pacific defence ministers come together in a ministerial setting like this in Asia.

Commemorating 30 years of India-ASEAN relations, India and Cambodia will also co-chair the maiden India-ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting after having elevated their relationship to ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ earlier.

Apart from the ADMM-Plus meeting and India-ASEAN Defence Ministers’ meeting, Singh continues to hold bilateral discussions with the Defence Ministers of the participating countries.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles

He held some “insightful deliberations” with Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles on boosting defence ties and deepening cooperation between India and Australia.

Singh also met his counterpart from New Zealand Peeni Henare as the two discussed defence cooperation matters and ways to further strengthen the mutually beneficial engagements between both countries.

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