On Monday, it was verified by the United States that Beijing persistently rebuffs all attempts at initiating military engagements and communication with the Pentagon. In a recent development, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, attempted to establish contact with the Chinese equivalent in rank, Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu, proposing a bilateral discussion to revitalize open dialogue. However, General Li, under sanctions from Washington, insists that these sanctions must be lifted as a prerequisite for any meeting. The Biden administration’s bid for a meeting between the military leaders during the Shangri-La Dialogue fell through due to this sanctions issue – a punitive measure that Li has faced since 2018.
During the preceding G7 summit in Hiroshima, when asked about the sanctions against China, President Biden stated that they were “under negotiation.” Still, no indications of a shift in this stance have been evident since then. The lack of dialogue between the militaries, vital for preventing unintentional conflict in areas like the South China Sea where both naval powers are present, has been solely attributed to China by both the Pentagon and the US administration.
Ely Ratner, the US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs, expressed frustration at the situation last week, stating that the Pentagon “believes in the importance of open lines of communication with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and we have sought to build out those open lines of communication. Unfortunately… we’ve had a lot of difficulty when we have proposed phone calls, meetings, dialogues.“
The Assistant Secretary went further and revealed during a speech at the DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies that “The Pentagon’s attempts to reach out to China’s military in recent months have been ignored or rebuffed.”