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Rajnath holds talks with US Def Secretary with focus on Indo-Pacific

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with US Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper on the sidelines of ADMM-Plus in Bangkok, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. A Twitter/PTI Photo

BANGKOK (PTI): Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday held talks with US Defence Secretary Mark T Esper here on a range of strategic issues including situation in the Indo-Pacific region and ways to further bolster bilateral security cooperation.

The meeting took place on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), a platform comprising ASEAN and its eight dialogue partners including India.

The defence minister also held separate bilateral meetings with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, Australian counterpart Linda Reynolds, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and New Zealand's Defence Minister Ron Mark.

The broad focus of the meetings was to add further momentum to bilateral defence cooperation.

In the meeting with Esper, Singh reaffirmed New Delhi's vision for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region based on a rules-based order and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China has been fast expanding military and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific region, triggering concern in various countries of the region and beyond.

Singh said there has been a growing convergence between India and the US on the Indo-Pacific, adding the 10-member grouping of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is central to New Delhi's vision for the region.

"Had an excellent meeting with US Secretary of Defence, Dr. Mark T Esper in Bangkok today. We talked about ways to expand defence cooperation between India and the United States," Singh tweeted.

Singh conveyed to his American counterpart that he was looking forward to have substantial discussions during the deliberations under the 'two-plus-two' foreign and defence ministerial dialogue between the two countries in Washington later next month, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The inaugural Indo-US 'two-plus-two' talks took place here in September last year.

Expressing happiness on the growing Indo-US ties, Singh said the cooperation between the two sides has grown across a wide range of sectors including defence and security, economy, energy, counter-terrorism and people-to-people relationship.

Singh and Esper also discussed a number of key issues concerning regional security and bilateral defence cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon in a statement said Esper in the meeting highlighted opportunities to increase US-India collaboration across the region.

"Noting the importance both countries place on engagement with Southeast Asia", Esper highlighted "opportunities to increase US-India collaboration across the region and reinforce our commitment to a rules-based security architecture with ASEAN at its core", it said.

Esper also welcomed the deepening security ties between India and the US, including the first-ever US-India tri-service exercise "Tiger Triumph".

Esper said he look forward to the US-India 2+2 talks to be held at Washington later this year.

After the meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Singh, in a tweet, said: "We had a detailed discussion on adding further momentum to India-Japan defence cooperation."

About his talks with the Thai Deputy PM, Singh said a wide range of issues pertaining to bilateral ties figured in the meeting.

"Excellent meeting with Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, General Prawit Wongsuwan in Bangkok today. We discussed a wide range of issues pertaining to bilateral relations between India and Thailand," Singh said.

The defence minister described his meeting with New Zealand counterpart as "extremely fruitful".

"Our talks included the full spectrum of India-New Zealand defence relations," he said.

The ADMM-Plus is also likely to review the evolving security scenario in the region, particularly in the maritime domain.

The inaugural ADMM-Plus was convened in Hanoi in 2010. The defence ministers then had agreed on five areas of practical cooperation to pursue under the new mechanism, including maritime security, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations.

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