SINGAPORE (AP) – Amid heightened tensions between China and Washington, China and Singapore launched a bilateral hotline that provides a high-level communications link between China and its close US partners in Asia.
China’s Defense Minister Li Sang-fu, a general in the People’s Liberation Army who was appointed minister in March, said he and Singapore’s Defense Minister had “a secure telephone line for high-level communications between the two countries.”
Both states’ defence ministers signed a memorandum of understanding. A statement issued by Singapore said it would “work towards it”.
“Such high-level, open lines of communication are critical to fostering mutual understanding and trust,” the statement said, without giving a timeline for its establishment.
Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu is on his first visit to Singapore as defense minister, and is broadly discussing global and regional security issues with a range of officials. Singapore said both countries’ defense establishments “interact regularly through bilateral and multilateral exercises” and that his visit underscores “long-standing, warm and friendly” relations. At the same time, Singapore is a close military and economic partner of the United States, and the agreement to open a direct telephone line comes at a time when communications between the United States and China are strained.
Li also set up a defense hotline with Japan in March to improve communication and avoid accidental encounters in tense areas.
Lee is scheduled to address a meeting of defense officials, diplomats and heads of state on Sunday while in Singapore. But on the same day, he rejected a request from Washington for a sideline meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is scheduled to speak at Shangri-La. Saturday’s La Dialogue Security Conference.
China is furious, among other things, over US support for Taiwan, an autonomous democracy it claims to be its territory, the launch of so-called Chinese spy balloons, and sanctions aimed directly at Mr. Li.
These sanctions are related to the U.S. comprehensive response to Russia, but they predate the invasion of Ukraine, citing Mr. Li’s involvement in China’s purchase of fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles from Moscow imposed in 2018.
The sanctions, which broadly prevent Li from doing business in the United States, do not prevent him from holding official talks, the U.S. has said. Earlier this week, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Tang Kefei said Austin’s offer to meet in Singapore was rejected because the US was “ignoring China’s concerns and creating artificial obstacles”.
Ignoring the sanctions and other issues that should be addressed directly, he said, “The United States will take practical steps to show good faith and correct mistakes in order to create the necessary conditions and an appropriate atmosphere for communication and exchanges between the two sides.