The Pentagon says China has declined a request by the U.S. for a meeting between their defense chiefs at an annual security forum in Singapore this weekend.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said the U.S. in early May had offered for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to meet with the People’s Republic of China Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu, but that invitation was turned down this week.
Both defense leaders are slated to attend the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, with Austin speaking on Saturday and his Chinese counterpart scheduled to speak on Sunday. The annual dialogue is an informal gathering of defense officials and analysts in Singapore that also creates opportunities for side meetings among defense leaders.
“The PRC’s concerning unwillingness to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions will not diminish DoD’s commitment to seeking open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] at multiple levels as part of responsibly managing the relationship,” Ryder said.
He added that open lines of communication are important "to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict."
A senior defense official told VOA on Tuesday that since 2021, the PRC has declined or failed to respond to more than a dozen requests from the Department of Defense for key leader engagements, along with multiple requests for standing dialogues and nearly 10 working-level engagements.
“Frankly, it’s just the latest in a litany of excuses,” the senior defense official said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning confirmed the two defense leaders will not meet this week, saying Tuesday at a news briefing that the U.S. should “earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and security interests and concerns … and create the necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication between the two militaries.”
Li, who assumed his current post in March, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018 over the purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Tuesday a People's Republic of China J-16 fighter pilot “performed an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” during an intercept of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft.
The incident occurred Friday over international airspace above the South China Sea, according to a statement by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“The PRC pilot flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence. The RC-135 was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law,” Indo-PACOM said.
In the statement, Indo-PACOM called on all countries to use international airspace safely in accordance with international law, adding that the United States “will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows.”