dpa/GNA – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is set to open his India visit on Friday as the two allies look to strengthen defence ties and exchange views on security challenges, officials said.
Austin, the first top official from US President Joe Biden’s administration to visit India, plans to hold a meeting with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval after he kicks off his March 19-21 tour.
Saturday will be the main day of Austin’s engagements in India, when he is scheduled to hold extensive talks with his counterpart Rajnath Singh, among other Indian leaders, officials said.
The two sides are expected to discuss key issues including counterbalancing China’s growing power and influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
India and the US will also discuss the situation in Afghanistan that is considered to be important for regional and international security.
India and China last month began to disengage their troops that were locked in a military stand-off in the disputed Himalayan region of Ladakh since May.
There was an incident of hand-to-hand combat in June that resulted in casualties on both sides, the worst such confrontation in 45 years.
India-US defence ties have seen a major consolidation in the past few years. In 2016, India was designated as a major US defence partner.
The two countries have inked key defence and security pacts even as defence deals have surged, with India buying more than 20 billion dollars worth of military equipment from the US since 2008.
Austin is visiting India after stops in Japan and South Korea, where he accompanied Secretary of State Antony Blinken in talks.