NEW DELHI - U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is likely to visit India next week, an Indian government source told Reuters on Sunday, as the two allies seek to deepen military ties to counter the growing power of China in the Asia-Pacific region. The first person visit by a top official of the new U.S. President Joe Biden's administration will focus on enhancing cooperation, said the source, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter. Austin plans to meet Defence Minister Rajnath Singh during his visit some time in the week of March 15, the official added. The first Black U.S. defence chief will join Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a visit to Japan and South Korea, sources told Reuters on Thursday. It was not immediately clear if Blinken will also visit India. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi referred a request for comment to the Defense Department, which could not be reached outside regular business hours. For India, closer bilateral military ties could bring greater access to American technology, as New Delhi tries to modernise its defence system amid tensions with neighbouring China in the western Himalayas. India and China last month began to pull back troops and battle tanks from a bitterly contested lake area high in the Himalayas, in a breakthrough after a months-long standoff on the disputed border between the two nuclear-armed giants. The standoff began in April when India said Chinese troops had intruded deep into its side of the Line of Actual Control or the de facto border in the Ladakh area in the western Himalayas. U.S. defence manufacturers hope closer ties will boost their own prospects in India, which is one of the world's biggest defence spenders but still has major gaps in its military capabilities. REUTERS
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