Washington says it's received no response from Beijing to a request for a meeting between the countries? defense chiefs
The Pentagon's attempts to reach out to China's military in recent months have been ignored or rebuffed, Ely Ratner, US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, has claimed.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin "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," Ratner said during an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Thursday.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, along with the head of US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral, John Aquilino - and other uniformed and civilian officials - have asked Beijing for dialogue, but "those requests [were] rejected or not answered," he said.
"The US and Department of Defense have had an outstretched hand on this question of military to military engagement, but we have yet to have consistently willing partners," Ely Ratner explained.
Dialogue between military officials of the two countries is crucial "to prevent misperception and miscalculation and to prevent crises from spinning out of control," the official insisted.
In the latest example, the Pentagon's request for talks between Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu at the Shangri-La Dialogue Forum in Singapore next week "has not been answered one way or another," Ratner noted.
According to a report by the Financial Times, Beijing told Washington earlier this month that "there is little chance" of Li sitting down with Austin in Singapore due to sanctions placed on the Chinese defense chief over his alleged involvement in the purchase of Russian advanced weapons. However, Ratner claimed that those restrictions in no way prevent Li from holding talks with his US counterpart. "The ball is in their court at this point," he said.
The US and Chinese defense chiefs last negotiated at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia in November. At the time, Wei Fenghe was China's defense minister. Austin and Li - who was appointed to his post in March - have yet to meet face-to-face.
Relations between Beijing and Washington have been severely strained since last August, when US House Speaker Nanacy Pelosi visited the self-governed island of Taiwan, which China views as part of its territory. They deteriorated further after the so-called "spy balloon" incident in February. Washington claimed it shot down a Chinese surveillance aircraft over its territory, while Beijing said it was merely a weather balloon, which had strayed into the US by accident. A visit to China by US Secretary of State Antony Bliken, which had been postponed over the crisis, has not happened to this day.
Last week, China's top diplomat Wang Yi and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held a meeting in the Austrian capital, Vienna. According to Washington, both sides agreed that the incident in February was "unfortunate" and pledged to "reestablish standard, normal channels of communications." Chinese officials described the meeting as "substantive," adding that Beijing would "continue to make good use of this channel of strategic communication," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.