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China on Monday rejected a request from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore this coming weekend, according to the Pentagon.
The rejection comes despite a “weekslong effort” by the U.S. to secure a meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu at the annual conference, which included a letter from Austin to Li, according to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
China has rebuffed a U.S. request for a meeting between their defense chiefs on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore this weekend, the Pentagon said, showing the limits of a tentative rapprochement between the two rival powers.@nancyayoussefhttps://t.co/HueqVCErNM
— Jonathan Cheng (@JChengWSJ) May 30, 2023
“Overnight, the PRC informed the U.S. that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore this week,” Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said in a statement. “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 Chinese Embassy Spokesman Liu Pengyu told the WSJ that the U.S. was “seeking to suppress China through all possible means and continue imposing sanctions on Chinese officials, institutions and companies.”
“Is there any sincerity in and significance of any communication like this?” he added.
While Austin was rebuffed, other officials have been able to recently meet with their counterparts.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with her counterpart last week.
Glad to welcome Minister Wang Wentao to D.C. Minister Wang and @SecRaimondo exchanged views on trade issues in a candid, professional and constructive manner.
China-US economic and trade ties are mutually beneficial in nature. Such win-win cooperation should continue. pic.twitter.com/KqHWQP40Hg
— Xie Feng 谢锋 (@AmbXieFeng) May 26, 2023
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with his counterpart earlier this month in Vienna.
U.S. National Security Advisor @JakeSullivan46 met on May 10-11 with Chinese Communist Party Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi in Vienna.
— U.S. Asia Pacific Media Hub (@eAsiaMediaHub) May 13, 2023
And U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in early May.
I met State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang today. We discussed challenges in the U.S.-China relationship and the necessity of stabilizing ties and expanding high-level communication. pic.twitter.com/2AYxkXiVMI
— Ambassador Nicholas Burns (@USAmbChina) May 8, 2023
There have been other lower-level meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials.
However, China has kept Austin at arm’s length, perhaps over the areas of tension between the U.S. and Chinese militaries that include Taiwan and China’s spy balloon program. In a high-profile debacle for the Biden administration earlier this year, a Chinese spy balloon flew over sensitive military sites in the continental U.S. before being shot down by the U.S. military over the Atlantic Ocean.
WATCH: GOP Rep. Steube: We Need to Investigate Biden ‘Lying’ about Spy Balloon:
China has also said there was little chance of a meeting between Austin and his new counterpart as long as there are U.S. sanctions on him, which were imposed by the Trump administration in 2018 for Chinese purchases of Russian fighter jets and missiles, according to the Financial Times. The sanctions do not prohibit a meeting between Austin and Li, however.
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters, “This is far from the first time that the [People’s Republic of China] has rejected invitations to communicate from the secretary, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, or other [Department of Defense] officials.”
“Frankly, it’s just the latest in a litany of excuses,” the official said, adding that since 2021, China had declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests for senior-level meetings, multiple requests for standing dialogues, and nearly 10 requests for working-level meetings.