China rejected a US proposal for a meeting in Singapore between Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu, according to the Pentagon. The refusal to engage in military-to-military discussions raised concerns but the US Department of Defence remains committed to pursuing open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said…
“Overnight, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) informed the US that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu in Singapore this week.”
Ryder added that China’s reluctance to participate in such discussions would not deter the US Defence Department’s efforts to establish communication with the Chinese military.
A senior US defence official remarked that the declined invitation was “just the latest in a litany of excuses.” Since 2021, China has reportedly “declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests from the Department of Defence for key leader engagements, multiple requests for standing dialogues, and nearly ten working-level engagements.”
Li Shangfu was sanctioned by the US government in 2018 for purchasing Russian weapons; however, the Pentagon asserts that this does not prevent Austin from conducting official business with him. Austin is scheduled to travel to Singapore later this week to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, a defence summit where he met Li’s predecessor Wei Fenghe in June last year.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing escalated this year over issues such as Taiwan and an alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by a US warplane after traversing the country. In response, Austin and other US officials have been working to strengthen alliances and partnerships in Asia to counter Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions.
Despite the strained relations, there have been indications that both sides are attempting to ease tensions. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in Vienna earlier this month, and President Joe Biden recently predicted that ties between Washington and Beijing should thaw “very shortly.” He cited the spy balloon incident as a factor that had heightened tensions.
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