Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday spoke briefly with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue Asian security summit in Singapore, a surprise exchange that comes after Beijing refused a request for the two to meet, APA reports citing the Hill.
Austin and Chinese Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu “spoke briefly at tonight’s opening dinner,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
“The two leaders shook hands, but did not have a substantive exchange,” he added.
Beijing earlier informed Washington that it had declined an invitation for Austin and Li to speak at the summit, a rebuff that the Pentagon chief called “unfortunate.”
The United States for months has attempted to broker a conversation between Austin and Li, who was named China’s defense minister in March.
Tensions between the two countries have been simmering, however, over a range of issues, including trade disputes, Taiwan’s independence and the U.S. military shoot down of a Chinese spy balloon that flew over the country this winter.
Li has also been the target of U.S. sanctions since 2018 over his purchase of warplanes and equipment from Rosoboronexport, a top Russian defense firm.
Despite the limited facetime between Austin and Li on Friday, the Pentagon “believes in maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication with the [People’s Republic of China] — and will continue to seek meaningful military-to-military discussions at multiple levels to responsibly manage the relationship,” Ryder said.