China’s defence minister may not meet US counterpart at Shangri-La Dialogue in S'pore due to sanctions

The defence summit will happen in Singapore.

Yen Zhi Yi | May 12, 2023, 01:28 PM

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The chances of a meeting between China’s national defence minister Li Shangfu and U.S’ Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue are slim, according to the Financial Times (FT).

The Shangri-La Dialogue, a top level security forum, will be held in Singapore from Jun. 2 to Jun. 4, 2023. It has served as the platform where defence officials from the U.S. and China can meet.

For instance, Austin managed to meet Li’s predecessor Wei Fenghe at the same security forum in 2022.

Li, appointed as China’s defence minister in March 2023, was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 over the purchase of military aircraft and equipment from Russia, Reuters reported.

Based on a source cited by Nikkei Asia, China is apparently calling for the lifting of these sanctions ahead of the security summit.

On the US side

A spokesperson from the U.S defense department also told the news outlet that Austin would still be able to engage in “official United States Government business" with Li despite his sanctioned status.

“It has been the People’s Republic of China’s decision to ignore, reject, or cancel multiple U.S. requests for senior-level communication," the spokesperson remarked.

The spokesperson also stressed the importance of keeping communication lines open, according to Nikkei Asia.

On the Chinese side

However, the spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in U.S, Liu Pengyu, said that “communication should not be carried out for the sake of communication”, FT reported.

“We call on the U.S. side to show sincerity, to work together with China, and to take concrete actions to create the conditions and atmosphere needed for communication and help bring China-U.S. relations back to the right track,” he added.

A stalemate in US-China relations

The uncertainty over the meeting comes at a time when both sides are struggling to resume dialogue amidst tensions.

In November 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden and China President Xi Jinping met ahead of the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Bali, Indonesia.

However, efforts to reduce tensions were derailed ever since the downing of the alleged “spy” balloon in February 2023, causing U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his planned trip to China.

Thereafter, China has largely refused to connect or communicate with the U.S, while both sides continued to double down on their divided views during the Munich Security Conference held days later.

The historic but politically-sensitive visit by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen to the American continent and her meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy only added to the tensions.

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