TEHRAN (Tasnim) – China declined a US request for the countries’ defense chiefs to meet in Singapore this week, following concerns Beijing raised over sanctions Washington imposed on its top general.
While the rejection is the latest rebuff of US efforts to strengthen military communications, it appears to be a setback for White House efforts to restore ties with key officials amid heightened tensions, Bloomberg reported.
The US had proposed in May that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin meet his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu in Singapore during the Shangri-La Dialogue, a marquee Asia-Pacific security gathering.
However, China had demanded that the US lift sanctions imposed on Li in 2018 over the role he played overseeing an arms purchase from Russia.
In a sign of the testy relationship between the top economies and global powers, the US Defense Department on Monday called the decision a “concerning unwillingness” to engage in military discussions.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Relations have been rocky since the US slapped sweeping export bans on semiconductor technology, a top US politician visited Taiwan, which angered Beijing, and an alleged Chinese spy balloon crossed US territory, all obscuring any goodwill gained from a meeting in late 2022 between presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.
Last week, top commerce officials met face-to-face in Washington, following two days of talks between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat in May, steps the US has seen as thawing relations.
The Defense 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”, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said in a statement on Monday.
The Biden administration had weighed the possibility of lifting the sanctions. During a Group of Seven summit in Japan on May 21, President Biden said such a move was “under negotiation right now”.
Li plans to attend the Singapore event from May 31 to June 4, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. He will give a speech and meet Singaporean officials, Xinhua said, citing China’s Defense Ministry.
China had argued that Li would not be on equal footing with Austin if the sanctions stayed in place.
The US sanction designation “does not prevent Secretary Austin from meeting with him in the course of conducting official United States government business”, Ryder said in the statement on Monday.
Last week, White House spokesman John Kirby said there were discussions by the US Defense Department to get a conversation going between Austin and his Chinese counterpart.
Kirby also said there was the possibility of a meeting between US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and her Chinese counterpart during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Detroit.