July 14, 2024

China Rejects US Defense Chiefs Meeting Request, Diminishing Hopes of Improved Relations

Li Shangfu and Llyod Austin
Li Shangfu and Llyod Austin

China has formally rebuffed a US request for a meeting between their defense chiefs at the upcoming annual security forum in Singapore, according to the Pentagon. The decision underscores the limits of a fragile detente between the two rival powers. The Wall Street Journal first reported the development.

The rejection by China shuts the door, at least for now, on a meeting proposed by the US between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and China’s new defense minister, Li Shangfu, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington and the White House have not yet commented on the matter.

The US administration aims to maintain open lines of military communication with China to prevent escalating competition from turning into conflict. However, the US has been unwilling to meet China’s demand to lift sanctions on Li, which were imposed in 2018. The Biden administration would need to inform Congress if it decides to lift the sanctions.

As both nations continue to navigate their complex relationship, the hopes for improved ties through high-level meetings remain uncertain, highlighting the ongoing challenges faced by the US and China in their efforts to find common ground.

Here are the key takeaways from this new development:

  1. China’s dismissal of the proposal is seen as an unusually blunt message, signaling the difficulty of arranging such high-level meetings.
  2. Previous meetings have been arranged at the last minute, including last year’s meeting between Austin and his then-counterpart.
  3. China’s decision could raise concerns among Southeast Asia allies caught between the two powers, while leaving open the possibility of a lower-level meeting in Singapore.
  4. Efforts by the US to secure the meeting included a letter from Austin to Li, but China declined the request.
  5. China’s refusal comes amidst strained relations between Beijing and Washington, sparked by various incidents and disagreements.
  6. The Biden administration has sought to improve military relations to avoid miscommunication, particularly regarding Asia-Pacific operations and tensions over Taiwan.
  7. China’s strategic choice to meet with some top US officials while excluding Austin and Li may indicate a priority for engagements on economic issues rather than national security.
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