China has declined an invitation for its Defense Minister to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on the sidelines of a summit in Singapore later this week, the Pentagon announced late Monday.
China “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 Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.
Both Austin and Li are scheduled to travel to Singapore to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 2-4 and give remarks. Austin met with Li’s predecessor on the sidelines of last year’s summit, but the Defense Secretary has not spoken with his current Chinese counterpart since Li became Defense Minister in March 2023.
Already heightened U.S.-Chinese tensions were made worse in recent months after the Pentagon in February shot down what it says was a Chinese surveillance balloon over South Carolinian waters after it had crossed the continental U.S.
On February 7, China refused to take a call from Secretary Austin, which had been meant to ratchet down those tensions. China had stated the U.S. had not created “the proper atmosphere for dialogue” at that time.
Tensions have been further aggravated by China’s saber-rattling against its self-governing neighbor, Taiwan. The U.S. has suspected for some time that China is planning to invade Taiwan, though it has been watching and waiting to see how Russia fairs in its invasion of Ukraine before going forth with an assault against the island nation, just one hundred miles off China’s coast.
In mid-May White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held unpublicized talks with senior Chinese Foreign Policy Adviser Wang Yi in Vienna, during which he told Wang that the U.S. was “looking to move beyond” the spy balloon-sparked tensions.
According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, Beijing officials at the time saw the discussions as “substantive” and said both sides would “continue to make good use of this channel of strategic communication.”
Austin has said that he will continue to reach out to Li, despite this week’s rebuff. “I think that’s critical,” the Defense Secretary said.