(Photo by PATRICK SEMANSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Tuesday that he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit India next week to strengthen the two countries’ alliance in the face of China’s strategic challenge.

“India will well be the most consequential partner for us, in the Indo-Pacific for us for sure, in this century,” Esper said in an address to the Atlantic Council.

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.

According to reports, talks in New Delhi could cover increased intelligence sharing.

It comes as Indian and Chinese troops remain in a standoff following clashes in a disputed Himalayan border region.

“It’s 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 India.

Esper’s comments also followed an announcement by Australia that it will take part in a large-scale military drill off the coast of India next month, the Malabar naval exercise, together with India, the United States and Japan.

Last November the United States held its first-ever bilateral air, land and sea exercises with India.

In July the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz also held exercises with the India navy.

The two countries also opened a cyber defense dialogue last month, Esper said.

His and Pompeo’s meetings with Indian counterparts will reflect the need for “a lot more close collaboration” on challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, where China is building its presence, he said.

“Together these efforts will strengthen what may become one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century.”