U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rebuked China on Saturday for refusing to hold military talks, leaving the superpowers deadlocked over Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s top security summit, Austin said Beijing’s refusal to hold talks at the meeting undermined efforts to maintain peace in a region where the two rivals are increasing their military firepower.
“I am deeply concerned that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has been unwilling to engage more seriously on better mechanisms for crisis management between our two militaries,” Austin told the meeting in Singapore.
“The more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict.”
A senior Chinese military official struck back, saying the United States was responsible for a breakdown in dialogue by ramping up sanctions on Chinese officials and destabilizing the Asia-Pacific with its military presence.
“China-U.S. military relations are faced with difficulties and the responsibility lies entirely on the U.S. side,” Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng told reporters at the summit.
“China attaches importance to developing China-U.S. military relations, and our interactions and communication have never been suspended.”
American and Canadian warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait as Austin spoke on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported, a show of military might that has incensed China in the past and is likely to push the two sides further apart.
There had been slim hopes that the annual Shangri-La Dialogue would be an opportunity to mend the relationship between the U.S. and China, which is at its lowest point in decades.
Washington and Beijing are at loggerheads over everything from the future of democratically ruled Taiwan, territorial claims in the South China Sea and President Joe Biden’s restrictions on semiconductor chip exports.
China’s Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu had this week declined an invitation to meet Austin at the security summit. Li, a general who has been sanctioned by the U.S., delivers his own speech on Sunday.
On Friday, the two shook hands on the sidelines of the conference but did not hold detailed talks, the Pentagon said.
“A cordial handshake over dinner is no substitute for a substantive engagement,” Austin said.
Dialogue between the two countries has stalled since U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a visit to China in February after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was tracked flying across the United States.