BEIJING: China on Tuesday confirmed it has declined a request by the US for a meeting between their defense chiefs at an annual security forum in Singapore this weekend.
“The US is clear about the reason why China-US military dialogue faces difficulties. The US should earnestly respect China’s sovereignty, security and interest concerns, immediately correct wrong practice, show sincerity and create necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication between Chinese and US militaries,” said Mao Ning, China’s foreign office spokesperson during a routine briefing to the media.
Austin and Li will be in Singapore to attend the annual Shangri-la Dialogue that opens on Friday, an informal gathering of defense officials and analysts that also plays host to a string of side meetings.
Both are expected to hold bilateral meetings with counterparts from around the region. Li is a member of the Central Military Commission, China’s top defense body that is commanded by President Xi Jinping.
“Overnight, the PRC informed the US that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary 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 China by the initials of its official name, the People’s Republic of China.
The Pentagon said it believed in open communication “to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict.”
Last week, White House spokesman John Kirby said there were discussions by the Defense Department to get talks going between Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, who was named defense minister in March.
The prospect of a meeting between the two countries was being closely watched globally given regional security tensions and trade disputes that have derailed plans for re-engagement by the world’s two largest economies.
Last week, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao held useful discussions on trade, investment and export policies in a meeting in Washington that marked the first US-China cabinet-level exchange in months.
Though the Chinese officials have yet to explain Li’s snub but some security analysts said Beijing’s annoyance at US sanctions against him was a possible reason.
Li, who security scholars say is a veteran of the People’s Liberation Army modernisation effort, has been under US sanctions since 2018 over the purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia’s main arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.