China has rejected a US request for a meeting between the defense chiefs

May 29 (Reuters) – China has rejected a U.S. request for a meeting between their defense chiefs at an annual security forum in Singapore this weekend, media reported on Monday, in a fresh sign of tension between the powers.

„Overnight, the PRC informed the United States that they had declined our invitation in early May for Secretary (Lloyd) Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore,” the Pentagon said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. China, by the initials of its official name, is the People’s Republic of China.

Li has been subject to US sanctions since 2018 for purchasing warplanes and equipment from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms exporter.

The Pentagon said it believes in open communication to „ensure that competition is not compromised.”

Last week, White House spokesman John Kirby said the Defense Department was in discussions to hold talks between Austin, who was named defense secretary in March, and his Chinese counterpart.

The prospect of a meeting has been closely watched due to regional security tensions and trade disputes that have derailed plans to re-engage by the world’s two largest economies.

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday blamed the US for its decision, saying Washington was „well aware” of the reasons behind the lack of military contact.

„The U.S. side should immediately correct its wrongdoings, show sincerity, and create the conditions and atmosphere necessary for dialogue and communication between the two militaries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told reporters.

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Last week, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao traded barbs on trade, investment and export policies at a meeting in Washington.

Ian Storey, a Singapore-based security analyst, said China’s decision to avoid Austin was not a good one.

„At a time of rising US-China tensions, General Li’s refusal to meet with his US counterpart will further fray regional nerves,” Storey said.

Austin and Li will attend the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, an informal gathering of defense officials and analysts, which will also host a series of side meetings, starting Friday in Singapore.

Both are expected to hold bilateral meetings with their counterparts from the region.

Li, who security scholars say is a veteran of efforts to modernize the People’s Liberation Army, is a member of the Central Military Commission, China’s top defense body led by President Xi Jinping.

Reporting by Urvi Dughar in Bengaluru, Greg Dorot in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Liz Lee and Larry Chen in Beijing; Editing: Chris Rees, Deepa Babington and Nick MacPhee

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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