The US has been trying to arrange a face-to-face conversation between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu
China has rejected Washington’s proposal that their respective defense chiefs meet this week, the Pentagon said on Monday. The news comes amid a renewed diplomatic spat between the two countries.
“Overnight, the PRC informed the US that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary [Lloyd] Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore,” the Pentagon said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“The Department believes strongly in the importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication between Washington and Beijing to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict,” the statement read.
The WSJ cited an unnamed US defense official as saying that China’s dismissal was “an unusually blunt message.”
According to the report, the Pentagon had wanted the meeting to take place on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security forum. Li will speak at the event as part of his trip to Singapore from May 31 to June 4, the Chinese Defense Ministry said.
The Pentagon said last week that attempts to establish contacts with their Chinese counterparts in recent months have failed.
The Financial Times reported this month that Beijing told Washington that there was “little chance” for a meeting between Li and Austin because of the sanctions placed on the Chinese defense minister over his alleged role in the purchase of Russian weapons. Li was appointed to his current position in March, replacing Wei Fenghe.
Last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry cast doubt on the sincerity of Washington’s willingness to engage in dialogue while simultaneously “seeking to suppress China through all possible means” and imposing restrictions on Chinese officials and entities.
At a summit in Hiroshima, Japan earlier this month, the G7 released a joint statement with a litany of accusations against China, including “economic coercion,” human rights abuses, and the inciting of tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Beijing accused the US-led group of countries of trying to impose their will on others and meddling in China’s domestic affairs.