China has reportedly rejected a request by the United States for a meeting between their defense chiefs at a major security conference in Singapore. This latest development highlights the growing tension between the two countries, according to a report by Channel NewsAsia.
According to a statement from the Pentagon to the Wall Street Journal, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) declined the invitation for Secretary Austin to meet with Chinese Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore.
The Pentagon emphasized the importance of open communication to prevent the escalation of competition into conflict.
Last week, White House spokesperson John Kirby revealed that the Defense Department had been engaged in discussions to initiate talks between Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, who assumed the role of defense minister in March.
The potential meeting between the two leaders attracted significant attention due to the existing regional security tensions and trade disputes that have hindered attempts at re-engagement between the world’s two largest economies.
The recent exchange between US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao further exemplified the strained relationship.
In a meeting held in Washington, the two officials exchanged criticisms on various trade-related issues, marking the first cabinet-level exchange between the United States and China in months.
Security analyst Ian Storey, based in Singapore, expressed concern over China’s decision to reject the meeting with Austin. He suggested that General Li’s refusal to meet his American counterpart would heighten regional tensions.
Both Austin and Li are expected to participate in the Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual informal gathering of defense officials and analysts, where they will likely engage in bilateral meetings with counterparts from other countries in the region.
Chinese officials have not provided a specific explanation for Li’s refusal to meet, but some security analysts speculate that Beijing’s displeasure with US sanctions against Li could be a contributing factor. L
i has been under US sanctions since 2018 due to his involvement in purchasing combat aircraft and equipment from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms exporter.
Notably, Li is a member of China’s Central Military Commission, the country’s top defense body headed by President Xi Jinping.
Images source: Russia Ministry of Defence and US Army