2+2 talks: India, US resolve to expand cooperation in Indo-Pacific region

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New Delhi, Oct 27 (PTI) In a clear message to China, India and the US on Tuesday vowed to step up their cooperation towards a free, open, inclusive and peaceful Indo-Pacific, highlighting the importance of securing the economic and security interests of all stakeholders.

The issue figured prominently at the third edition of the annual Indo-US 2+2 dialogue and both sides held that a closer India-US cooperation in the Indo-Pacific will help in promoting security and prosperity of the region and beyond.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper.

In the talks, the two sides expressed their support for further strengthening the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition through expanded activities, including initiating a dialogue among the development organisations of partner countries, a joint statement said.

A statement issued by the US State Department said Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed the increasingly close US-India relationship and the shared goals among like-minded Indo-Pacific countries for regional security and prosperity.

The Quad comprises India, the US, Japan and Australia.

The foreign ministers of the grouping held an extensive meeting on October 6 to further expand cooperation under the coalition. The Quad foreign ministers' talks would be held annually.

The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers. The US has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness.

At a press conference after the talks, Singh said both sides assessed the security situation across the Indo Pacific and reaffirmed their commitment to peace, stability and prosperity of all countries in this region.

'We also agreed that upholding the rules-based international order, respecting the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international seas and upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all States are essential,' he said.

'Our defence cooperation is intended to further these objectives. Both sides welcomed Australia joining the forthcoming Malabar exercise,' Singh said.

Last week, India announced that Australia will be part of the upcoming Malabar exercise, effectively making it a drill by all the four member-nations of the Quad.

The invitation by India to the Australian Navy for the exercise came two weeks after foreign ministers of the 'Quad' member-nations held extensive talks in Tokyo with a focus on enhancing their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

In his opening remarks at the talks, Pompeo said: 'Our friendship and commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific was clearly, clearly highly on display when we were in Tokyo this past week and a half for the Quad meeting that Minister Jaishankar and I had with our Australian and Japanese friends earlier this month.' A joint statement issued after the 2+2 talks said both sides reiterated their commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific built on a rules-based international order, underpinned by ASEAN centrality, rule of law, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment.

It also talked about the need for ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, mutual respect for sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes in the region.

Highlighting the importance of securing the economic and security interests of all stakeholders having a legitimate interest in the region, the ministers welcomed the growing understanding on the Indo-Pacific among like-minded countries, according to the statement.

'They reaffirmed that closer India-US cooperation will support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,' it said.

'They also emphasised that the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law,' it added.

The statement said the two sides also welcomed the recent convening of the second Australia-India-Japan-United States Quadrilateral ministerial meeting in Tokyo on October 6.

'The ministers also welcomed the fact that these consultations would now be held annually.

'They expressed their support for further strengthening Quad cooperation through expanded activities, including initiating a dialogue among the development organisations of partner countries,' the statement said. PTI MPB RT RT