China Rejects High-Level Meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Amid Sanctions Dispute

China has informed the U.S. that a meeting between their defense ministers is unlikely due to ongoing disputes over sanctions, according to a Financial Times (FT) report.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is eager to meet China’s new Defense Minister Li Shangfu at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore.

However, the U.S. had placed Li under sanctions in 2018 in connection with Chinese imports of Russian arms, complicating the meeting’s arrangement.

Despite the U.S. informing China that the sanctions would not prevent a meeting in a third country, sources say it would be nearly impossible for China to agree to a meeting while the sanctions remain in place.

There are no plans for the Biden administration to remove the sanctions, and the White House declined to comment on the matter.

The impasse comes as the two nations struggle to establish high-level visits between American cabinet secretaries and Beijing, FT explains.

Recent attempts at engagement were hampered by a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over North America.

Furthermore, Beijing is hesitant to receive Secretary of State Antony Blinken, fearing the FBI may release a report on the Chinese balloon.

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund, said the lack of high-level dialogue between the U.S. and China has made Southeast Asian nations increasingly uneasy.

She noted that these countries would be “shocked” if Austin and Li attended the Shangri-La Dialogue without a bilateral meeting, according to FT.

“The question is, will they blame the U.S. or China? My sense is that there is recognition in much of the region that the U.S. has been seeking to engage with Chinese counterparts but are being stonewalled,” Glaser added.

Liu Pengyu, the Chinese embassy spokesperson, stated that “communication should not be carried out for the sake of communication,” and urged the U.S. to “show sincerity” and “take concrete actions to create the conditions and atmosphere needed for communication.”