In early May, the Department of Defense offered a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore. Beijing rejected a meeting with Li, but U.S. officials remained hopeful of the possibility of a meeting between lower-level officials, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Overnight, the [People’s Republic of China] informed the U.S. that they have declined our early May invitation,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Monday. “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.”
Beijing said that Washington must “correct its mistaken actions” before any meeting between Austin and Li could take place, according to the South China Morning Post. The Chinese pointed out that the United States have imposed sanctions on Li since 2018 when he oversaw China’s Equipment Development Department and purchased military weapons from Russia.
China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said that the U.S. would have to create “necessary atmosphere and conditions” for a meeting to take place.
“Washington should earnestly respect the sovereignty, security and interests of China and immediately correct its mistaken actions to show its sincerity [to talk],” she said.
U.S.-China relations have grown frosty in recent months following the detection of a Chinese spy balloon that flew over the continental United States before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina. The relationship has been further upset by tensions over Taiwan.
During President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Japan, the president predicted that U.S.-China relations would begin to “thaw” soon.
“We should have an open hotline. At the Bali conference, that’s what President Xi and I agreed we were going to do and meet on. And then this silly balloon that was carrying two freight cars’ worth of spying equipment was flying over the United States, and it got shot down, and everything changed in terms of talking to one another,” said Biden. “I think you’re going to see that begin to thaw very shortly.”
Beijing’s refusal to hold a meeting with the United States’ top defense official throws Biden’s optimism into question, though a couple other bilateral meetings between top U.S. and Chinese officials have taken place recently. National security adviser Jake Sullivan and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo each held meetings with their Chinese counterparts earlier this month.