China declines US invite for defence chiefs meet


Last week, White House said there were discussions under way to initiate talks between Austin and his Chinese counterpart…reports Asian Lite News

China has declined a US invitation for a meeting in Singapore between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu.

Beijing’s foreign ministry on Tuesday blamed the United States for its decision, claiming Washington was “well aware” of the reasons behind the lack of military communication.

“The US side should … immediately correct its wrong practices, show sincerity, and create the necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication between the two militaries,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters at a briefing.

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier-General Pat Ryder said in a statement on Monday the People’s Republic of China (PRC) “declined our early May invitation” for the two military chiefs to meet in Singapore.

“The PRC’s concerning unwillingness to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions will not diminish [the defence department’s] commitment to seeking open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army,” Ryder added.

Last week, White House spokesman John Kirby said there were discussions under way to initiate talks between Austin and his Chinese counterpart, who was named defence minister in March.

The prospect of a meeting was being closely watched given heightened tensions in the region and the increasingly prickly relationship between Washington and Beijing over issues from Taiwan to trade and human rights.

Singapore-based security analyst Ian Storey said China’s decision did not bode well.

“At a time of rising US-China tensions, General Li’s refusal to meet his American counterpart will fray regional nerves even further,” Storey told the Reuters news agency.

Austin and Li will both be in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security summit which is due to start on Friday. He met Li’s predecessor Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the event last year.

Chinese officials have yet to confirm the decision, but tensions have soared this year especially over an alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by a US warplane after crossing into US airspace.

Li has also been subject to US sanctions since 2018 over the purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia’s main arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.

Li, who is due to arrive in Singapore on Wednesday, also sits on the Central Military Commission, China’s top defence body that is led by President Xi Jinping.

Citing the defence ministry, China’s state media said he would deliver a speech on China’s new security initiative and hold some bilateral meetings with “relevant” countries.

Austin is travelling first to Japan where he will hold talks with his Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada before visiting US troops stationed in the country.

He will then fly to Singapore where he will address the summit on Saturday morning, and “meet with key leaders to advance US defence partnerships across the region in support of our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, anchored in ASEAN centrality,” according to the Pentagon, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an economic and political coalition of 10 member states in Southeast Asia.

After Singapore, Austin will travel to India and then to France where he will join events commemorating the 79th anniversary of D-Day.

US denounces China’s South China Sea manoeuvr

The United States has accused a Chinese fighter jet of performing an “unnecessarily aggressive” manoeuvre against one of its aircraft during a flight over the South China Sea, a disputed region of significant strategic importance.

In a written statement on Tuesday, the US Indo-Pacific Command — the armed forces branch overseeing the region — said its aircraft was conducting “safe and routine operations” in “international airspace” when it was intercepted by the Chinese J-16 jet.

Its pilot “flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the US aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence”, according to the press release.

“We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” the statement added.

A video released with the statement shows the inside of the US Air Force plane’s cockpit, as a fighter jet approaches from one side, soaring over the clouds. As it turns and passes in front of the nose of the Air Force plane, the video wobbles from the force of its airflow.

The narrow fly-by and the US’s subsequent statement are the latest tit-for-tat over the South China Sea, where China has made broad territorial claims, covering much of the region.

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