China explains rebuff of Pentagon’s meeting proposal
Washington can remedy the communication breakdown between the US and Chinese militaries by heeding China’s concerns, Mao Ning, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said on Tuesday. Her comments came shortly after the Pentagon claimed China had turned down a meeting between the two nations’ defense chiefs in Singapore.
Speaking at a regular briefing, Mao did not outright confirm having refused the meeting, but pointed out that the reason the US and China are at an impasse in terms of dialogue “is clear” to Washington.
“The US side should earnestly respect China’s sovereignty, security and interest concerns, immediately correct its wrong practices,” she said, urging Washington to “show sincerity” and create the necessary conditions and atmosphere for dialogue between the militaries.
On Tuesday, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Defense said that China “declined our early May invitation for Secretary [Lloyd] Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore.”
The talks were expected to take place on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security forum scheduled for early June.
Meanwhile, Liu Pengyu, the Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington, accused the US of “seeking to suppress China through all possible means,” including placing sanctions on various entities and individuals.
The spokesman’s comments came after the Financial Times reported earlier this month that Li was unlikely to meet with Austin as the Chinese official was sanctioned by the US in 2018 over his alleged involvement in the transfer of Russian weapons to Beijing’s military. The outlet’s sources also noted at the time that “it would be almost impossible” for China to agree to such high-level talks unless those restrictions were lifted.
However, last week, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller signaled that Washington had no plans to do that, with US officials arguing that sanctions do not prevent Li from meeting his American counterparts.
Sino-American relations have been marred in recent months by a standoff over Taiwan, which has been purchasing weapons from the US despite China’s opposition. Beijing deems the island to be part of its sovereign territory.
The rift was also deepened by Washington’s decision to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the US several months ago. Beijing has insisted that it was a “civilian airship” that strayed into US airspace due to force majeure circumstances.