A major regional security forum is underway in Singapore amid rising tensions in the South China Sea and East Asia, with in-person communication between defense chiefs from China and the United States remaining shuttered.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had invited his Chinese counterpart, General Li Shangfu, to a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore but the Chinese minister declined.
China’s decision is “unfortunate,” Austin said before arriving in the city state which has been hosting the annual event since 2002.
“You’ve heard me talk a number of times about the importance of countries with large, with significant capabilities, being able to talk to each other so you can manage crises and prevent things from spiralling out of control unnecessarily,” the U.S. defense secretary was quoted by news agencies as saying in Tokyo on Thursday.
“I would welcome any opportunity to engage with Li,” Austin said. “I think defense departments should be talking to each other on a routine basis or should have open channels for communications.”
For its part, China said that “dialogue cannot be without principles, and communication cannot be without a bottom line.”