Chinese Defense Minister Rejects Meeting With U.S. Defense Secretary

On Monday, China rejected a request from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Defense Minister Li Shangfu.

According to a Tuesday report from the Wall Street Journal, there has been a “weekslong effort” by the Biden administration to secure a meeting with Li on the sidelines of the upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue security forum. This effort even included a letter from Austin to Li.

Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder released a statement about the matter.

“Overnight, the PRC informed the U.S. 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,” the statement read. “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.”

Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu also spoke out about the move, telling the Wall Street Journal that the United States was “seeking to suppress China through all possible means and continue imposing sanctions on Chinese officials, institutions and companies.”

“Is there any sincerity in and significance of any communication like this?” the spokesman added.

Despite refusing to meet with Austin, several other Biden administration officials have recently met with their Chinese counterparts — including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, along with several other lower-level meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials.

Meanwhile, China has continued to keep Austin at arm’s length over several perceived slights against the communist country — including the tension over the Chinese spy balloon shot down earlier this year.

According to the Financial Times, China has asserted that a meeting between Austin and his new counterpart would be unlikely to occur as long as the U.S. sanctions on him are still in place. These sanctions were imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration in response to China purchasing Russian fighter jets and missiles. However, these sanctions do not prohibit a meeting between Austin and Li.

Speaking with reporters, a senior U.S. defense official revealed that this was not the first time the Chinese Communist Party rebuffed invitations from the Biden administration.

“This is far from the first time that the [People’s Republic of China] has rejected invitations to communicate from the secretary, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, or other [Department of Defense] officials,” the official claimed.

“Frankly, it’s just the latest in a litany of excuses,” the official added, noting that since 2021, China has declined or failed to respond to more than a dozen requests for senior-level meetings, several requests for standing dialogues and nearly ten requests for working-level meetings.