China-US tension to overshadow annual security forum in Singapore

By Paloma Almoguera

Singapore, June 1 (EFE).- Tensions between the United States and China are likely to overshadow a three-day Asia security forum beginning Friday in Singapore after Beijing rejected a Washington request for a meeting between defense chiefs of the two countries.

Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, will participate in the June 2-4 Shangri-La Dialogue to be attended by the defense chiefs and security Who’s Who from nearly 50 countries.

The annual meeting allows the world powers to address the lack of dialogue on defense issues, particularly after the US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon that sailed over American territory in February.

Li is already in Singapore, where he met with his city-state counterpart Ng Eng Hen.

The two defense ministers on Thursday agreed to establish a direct defense and security phone link between their top military commands amid growing tensions in the Indo-Pacific between China and the US.

But there is no sign that the communication deficiency between Beijing and Washington will be overcome anytime soon.

Particularly so, after China this week rejected Washington’s proposal to hold a bilateral meeting between Austin and Li on the forum sidelines.

At last year’s edition, Austin met with the then-Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe for their first meeting.

The US defense chief said Thursday that it was “unfortunate” that China had refused the proposed meeting.

“You heard me talk a number of times about the importance of countries with significant capabilities being able to talk to each others so you can manage crisis and prevent things from going out of control unnecessarily,” Austin said in Tokyo.

Earlier, Pentagon accused a Chinese fighter jet of making an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” to intercept an American spy aircraft over the disputed South China Sea on May 26.

China dismissed the allegation that the move was aggressive behavior, saying it will continue taking “necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security.”

One of the main stumbling blocks for the proposed meeting was US sanctions against Li, appointed defense minister this year.

China had sought to lift the sanction before any meeting between the two.

The sanctions were imposed by the government of then-President Donald Trump in 2018 after Li, who then headed the Chinese military’s Equipment Development Department, approved the purchase of Russian jet fighters and missiles from the state-run Rosoboronexport.

“The US should be aware of the cause for the difficulties in the dialogue between China and US militaries, respect the Chinese sovereignty, security and interest concerns, immediately correct wrong practices and show sincerity,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said earlier this week.

“We must ask ourselves if the ‘rebuff’ came from the United States sanctions,” she noted.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden, during a G7 meeting in Japan, indicated that he would lift the sanctions against the Chinese minister.

Amid the raging tensions, the US continues to ask for increased communication with China.

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