US calls to renew talks as China invokes precondition

Sunday, Jun 04, 2023

SINGAPORE: US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Saturday it was “essential” to renew dialogue with China to avoid “misunderstandings” that could lead to a conflict between the two superpowers.

The United States had invited Austin´s Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu to meet on the sidelines of a defence summit in Singapore, but the Pentagon said Beijing declined.A member of China´s delegation told AFP that the removal of US sanctions on its minister is a precondition for talks.

“The United States believes that open lines of communication with the People’s Republic of China are essential -- especially between our defence and military leaders,” Austin told the Shangri-La Dialogue. “The more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict.”

Austin is on a tour of Asia that previously took him to Japan and will also include a visit to India -- part of a push by top US officials to shore up regional alliances and partnerships to help counter a more assertive China and an increasingly bellicose North Korea.

In his speech Saturday, Austin said he was “deeply concerned that (China) has been unwilling to engage more seriously on better mechanisms for crisis management between our two militaries”, expressing hope that this would soon change. Li, who will address the meeting on Sunday, was sanctioned by the US government in 2018 for buying Russian weapons, but the Pentagon says that does not prevent Austin from conducting official business with him.

Members of the Chinese delegation hit back swiftly over Austin’s remarks, with Senior Colonel Tang Hefei, spokesperson for China’s defence ministry, saying that the Pentagon chief “made several false accusations”.

Another Chinese delegation member, Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, said Washington had no business telling China what to do. “What we do in the Chinese military is based on maintaining the core interests of China´s security, which is fundamental,” he said. Zhao said removing the sanctions on Li is “one of the pre-conditions for substantial talks” with Austin.