BEIJING/WASHINGTON            -          US President Donald Trump prepares for his first official trip to India since assuming office, a third country will loom large over the visit even if its name is never uttered: China.

Trump’s two-day visit starting Feb. 24 will make him the fourth consecutive American president to visit India, a sign of the South Asian country’s increasing importance for Washington amid Beijing’s growing global influence.

The visit comes on the heels of a meeting of U.S. and Indian defense and foreign ministers last December, which concluded with an agreement to “work together in support of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region”.

The top officials also spoke about cooperation to counter “regional and global threats” -- both less than subtle digs at Beijing.

Plans for a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in India were also announced, yet another sign of increasing cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies.For political analyst AjitSahi, India has truly become a “linchpin” of America’s “anti-China policy”.

“India is the only country in the region standing with the U.S. in its push to contain China’s global influence,” Sahi, who is based in Washington, said in an interview with Anadolu Agency.

On the agenda for Trump and Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi during next week’s visit will be new weapons sales and making progress on a possible trade deal.  The latter would limit the U.S. trade imbalance with India, a key goal for Trump as he seeks to narrow Washington’s international trade deficits.

“Some of the progress on security cooperation and economic cooperation is certainly made with China in mind,” said Richard Rossow, who holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It drives a lot of what’s happening, but a lot of times it’s not so visible above the water; more so behind the scenes.”