Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu participates in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) defence ministers meeting in New Delhi India, 28 April 2023. EFE/EPA/HARISH TYAGI

After rebuffing Pentagon chief, China says US blocks path to improved ties

Beijing, May 30 (EFE).- China on Tuesday accused the United States of blocking the path to improved ties after Beijing declined a request for a meeting between their defense ministers on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore.

The Chinese government turning down a proposed meeting between Lloyd Austin and Li Shangfu marked the latest in failed efforts to stabilize turbulent ties.

“The US should be aware of the cause for the difficulties in the dialogue between China and US militaries, respect the Chinese sovereignty, security and interest concerns, immediately correct wrong practices and show sincerity,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.

The spokesperson called on the US government “to create necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogues.”

The remarks came hours after the US media reported that China had rebuffed a proposal from Washington for talks between Austin and Li on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue over the weekend in Singapore.

A Pentagon statement said on Monday that China “declined our early May invitation for Secretary Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore this week.”

“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 decline could be due to the US sanctions against Li, who was appointed defense minister this year, and Washington’s failure to lift the embargo.

China had sought to lift the sanction before any meeting between Li and Austin.

The sanctions were imposed by the government of then-President Donald Trump in 2018 after Li, who then headed the Chinese military’s Equipment Development Department, approved the purchase of Russian jet fighters and missiles from the state-run Rosoboronexport.

Mao noted that “we must ask ourselves if the ‘rebuff’ came from the United States sanctions.”

Austin plans to arrive in Singapore for the security forum on Saturday. The Chinese minister will address the gathering on Sunday.

The US defense met with Li’s predecessor, Wei Fenghe, on the sidelines of the Singapore forum in 2022. The two again met in Cambodia at the end of the year.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden, during a G7 meeting in Japan, indicated that he would lift the sanctions against the Chinese minister.

Ties between the countries deteriorated further after the Biden government shot down an alleged Chinese “spy” balloon that flew over the United States in late January and fell over Atlantic waters on Feb.4. EFE