The US said Monday that China has declined an offer for a meeting between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Li Shangfu, who is under US sanctions.
The US proposed for the two military leaders to meet on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue that will be held in Singapore this week, but Beijing has called for the US to lift the sanctions on Li in order for him to meet with Austin.
Li was sanctioned by the US in 2018 when he was the head of China’s Equipment Development Department and oversaw the purchase of Russian military equipment. The sanctions were imposed using the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
Li was appointed as defense minister in March. According to Bloomberg, China’s position is that Li wouldn’t be on equal footing with Austin if they met while the sanctions were still in place.
The US claims that it’s looking to foster communication with China but has so far refused to lift the sanctions on Li. President Biden was asked about the issue during the recent G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, and said the sanctions were “under negotiation,” but there’s no sign the US intends to lift them.
The Pentagon slammed China for declining the meeting, accusing Beijing of having a “concerning unwillingness” to engage in military discussions. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the sanctions do “not prevent Secretary Austin from meeting with him in the course of conducting official United States Government business.”