China denies US request of talks among defense chiefs in Singapore conference

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BEIJING (AP) Prospects for a renewed high-level military dialogue between China and the U.S. remain dim, with Beijing saying their defense chiefs will not hold a bilateral meeting while both are attending a weekend security conference in Singapore.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning on Tuesday blamed the U.S., saying Washington should “earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and security interests and concerns, immediately correct the wrongdoing, show sincerity, and create the necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication between the two militaries.”

Mao gave no details, but tensions between the sides have spiked over Washington’s military support and sales of defensive weapons to self-governing Taiwan, China’s assertions of sovereignty to the contested South China Sea and its flying of a suspected spy balloon over the U.S.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is scheduled to address the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday, while Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu will speak at the gathering on Sunday.

Austin met privately with Li’s predecessor, Wei Fenghe, at last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, which appeared to do little to smooth relations between the sides. In his address to the forum, Wei accused the U.S. of seeking to contain China’s development and threatening to assert its claim to Taiwan by military force. Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden met at the Group of 20 (G20) meeting held in Indonesia in November. 

Secretary of State Antony Brinken canceled a trip to Beijing in February after the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon that was passing over the United States. Later, he met with the Communist Party’s senior foreign policy adviser Wang Yi in Austria.

According to the Pentagon, China refused to answer calls from Austin to discuss the balloon issue. Communication at the military level has always been marked by mistrust and blame, with no signs of improvement so far. The Chinese government was also angered by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the United States in April, which included a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The People’s Liberation Army has held military exercises and sent fighter jets, drones and ships near the island to advertise the threat of attacking Taiwan and weakening its defenses.

China has also sent its own ships and aircraft to protest the movement of U.S. naval vessels and aircraft passing near Chinese-controlled islands in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, increasing the likelihood of confrontation and conflict.