India and the United States will hold their third “2+2 dialogue” in New Delhi on October 26 and October 27, the Hindustan Times reported. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper will travel to India to hold talks with their Indian counterparts, Ministry of External Affair Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

“Secretary Pompeo and I will be there next week,” Esper said on Tuesday at webinar organised by the Atlantic Council, a US-based think tank, PTI reported. “It’s our second two plus two with the Indians, the third ever for the United States and India and it is very important.”

Esper added that India will be the most consequential partner for the US in the Indo-Pacific this century. “India will be the most consequential partner for us, I think, in the Indo Pacific for sure in this century,” the US defence secretary said in response to a question.

He said his visit is part of a broader US initiative to strengthen older alliances and develop new ones against Russian and Chinese efforts to build their own global power networks. The meeting also comes amid heightened military tensions between India and China in eastern Ladakh.

“India is the world’s largest democracy, a very capable country with very talented people, and they face off, every day, Chinese aggression in the Himalayas,” Esper said of New Delhi at the webinar.

In June, Pompeo had called on India and said the border clashes initiated by the Chinese military against India in Ladakh were the latest example of the “unacceptable behaviour” of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Indian and Chinese troops clashed in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh along the disputed Line of Control on June 15. It led to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, the worst violence on the border since 1975. Tensions between the countries have since then soured, with several levels of talks failing to break the impasse.

Tensions between China and the United States have also reached acute levels, with the American government’s ordering that China close its Houston consulate being the latest example. From coronavirus, to actions on trade, technology, human rights and defence, reprisals by both sides have escalated sharply under US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump has repeatedly blamed China for spreading the coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. He repeatedly described the virus in racist terms, calling it the Chinese virus or the “Chinese plague”.

During his address on Tuesday, Esper said that several countries other than India, are also wry of Chinese actions. “I’ve travelled from Mongolia all the way down south to New Zealand and Australia, from as far as Thailand to Palau in the Pacific island countries. They’ll recognize what China is doing,” he said, adding that in some cases, what China is doing is “very overt”, and in many more cases it’s very opaque.

“But they are putting political pressure, diplomatic pressure, and in some cases like India, military pressure on countries to bend to their way,” the US official added. The issue is not about China’s rise, it’s all about how they rise, said Esper.

Besides expected talks about China, one of the items on the agenda of the “2+2” dialogue will be the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, or the BECA, The Indian Express reported. The BECA largely pertains to geospatial intelligence, and sharing information on maps and satellite images for defence.