WASHINGTON—Beijing has declined a US invitation for a meeting in Singapore between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu, the Pentagon said Monday.
“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 this week,” Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said in a statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“The PRC’s concerning unwillingness to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions will not diminish (the Defense Department’s) commitment to seeking open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army,” Ryder said.
A senior US defense official described the declined invitation as “just the latest in a litany of excuses,” saying that since 2021, China has “declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests from the Department of Defense for key leader engagements, multiple requests for standing dialogues, and nearly ten working-level engagements.”
Li was sanctioned by the US government in 2018 for buying Russian weapons, but the Pentagon says that does not prevent Austin from conducting official business with him.
Austin is due to travel to Singapore later this week to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, a defense summit where he met Li’s predecessor Wei Fenghe last June.
Austin and Wei met again in Cambodia later in 2022, but tensions between Washington and Beijing soared this year over issues including Taiwan and an alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by a US warplane after traversing the country.
Austin and other US officials have been working to shore up alliances and partnerships in Asia as part of efforts to counter increasingly assertive moves by Beijing, but there have also been tentative signs that the two sides were working to lower the temperature.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in Vienna earlier this month, and President Joe Biden recently said ties between Washington and Beijing should thaw “very shortly,” citing the spy balloon incident as a factor that had boosted tensions.