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China declines meeting with US defense chief: Pentagon

US defense chief apologizes for concealing hospitalization
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Beijing has declined a US invitation for a meeting in Singapore between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu, the Pentagon said.

“Overnight, the PRC informed the US that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore this week,” Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said Monday in a statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“The PRC’s concerning unwillingness to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions will not diminish (the Defense Department’s) commitment to seeking open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army,” he said.

When asked about the meeting, the Chinese foreign ministry would not confirm that Beijing had declined the invitation.

“The US knows clearly why there are currently difficulties in military communication between China and the US,” spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular press conference on Tuesday.

“The US should earnestly respect China’s concerns of sovereignty, security and interests, immediately correct its incorrect actions, show sincerity, and create the atmosphere and conditions for China-US military dialogue,” she said.

A senior US defense official described the declined invitation as “just the latest in a litany of excuses,” saying that since 2021, China has “declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests from the Department of Defense for key leader engagements, multiple requests for standing dialogues, and nearly ten working-level engagements.”

Li was sanctioned by the US government in 2018 for buying Russian weapons, but the Pentagon says that does not prevent Austin from conducting official business with him.

Austin is due to travel to Singapore later this week to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, a defense summit where he met Li’s predecessor Wei Fenghe last June.

Austin and Wei met again in Cambodia in 2022, but tensions between Washington and Beijing soared this year over issues including Taiwan and an alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by a US warplane after flying over the country.

Austin and other US officials have been working to shore up alliances and partnerships in Asia as part of efforts to counter increasingly assertive moves by Beijing, but there have also been tentative signs that the two sides were working to patch their relationship.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in Vienna this month, and President Joe Biden has said ties between Washington and Beijing should thaw “very shortly.”

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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