WASHINGTON: China is seeking to refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system in ways that serve its authoritarian interests, US Defense Secretary said on Monday, asserting a strong bilateral partnership with India is a critical building block in a more resilient, regional security architecture.
"China poses a major challenge," Austin said in his opening remarks at the 2+2 ministerial meeting being co-hosted along with his cabinet colleague Secretary of State Tony Blinken for their Indian counterparts, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
"We all understand the challenges that we face in the Indo-Pacific. The People's Republic of China is seeking to refashion the region and the international system more broadly in ways that serve its authoritarian interests. But as we operationalize our defence agreements and take our cooperation to the next level, I believe that we can sustain and strengthen a favourable balance of power in the region," he said.
He looked forward to discussing a range of bilateral defense priorities, including deeper information sharing and industrial cooperation.
All this will help to ensure that their our militaries are ready to meet any challenge, he said.
"Now, a strong US-Indian partnership is a critical building block in a more resilient, regional security architecture, and so today's 2+2 is an opportunity to discuss ways to strengthen our cooperation with like-minded partners from East and Southeast Asia to Europe and beyond," Austin said.
Observing that it has been nearly two decades after the two countries signed their first defence framework, he said India and the US have built a partnership that is now a cornerstone of security in the Indo-Pacific.
"Today, we are positioning the US and Indian militaries to operate and coordinate closely together across all domains and increasingly across the wider Indo-Pacific, all in support of the rule of law, freedom of the seas, and regional peace and security," he said.
"Those are vital principles, and now, more than ever, democracies must stand together to defend the values that we all share," he added.
Later at a news conference, Austin told reporters that the 2+2 ministerial reflects their deep commitment to maintaining open channels of communication on a range of challenging issues.
"As strategic threats converge, especially following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it is more important than ever that we stand together to defend our shared values and to preserve the international rules-based order," he said.
"And so I believe that the investments that we've made together today will help to ensure that our shared vision of a secure, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region thrives in the decades ahead," Austin said.