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Beijing has declined an invitation to meet with top U.S. officials this coming weekend, according to the Pentagon on May 29.
The decision effectively shutters the potential dialogue between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Beijing’s new defense minister, Li Shangfu.
“Overnight, the [People’s Republic of China (PRC)] informed the U.S. that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore this week,” the Pentagon said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
“The Department believes strongly in the importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication between Washington and Beijing to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict.”
For weeks, U.S. officials have worked to secure a meeting with Beijing, including a direct letter from Austin to Li.
“We’ve had a lot of difficulty, in terms of when we have proposed phone calls, proposed meetings, dialogues, whether that’s the secretary” or other top officials, said Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security, at an event at the Washington-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Earlier in May, national security advisor Jake Sullivan did meet with his Chinese counterpart in Vienna, while Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with Wang Wentao, Beijing’s commerce minister.
Officials Still Keen for Dialogue With Beijing
Attempts at setting up frequent face-to-face communication continue an ongoing stalemate between democratic allies and the Chinese Communist Party.
Australian officials are also working to set up a meeting between the nation’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese leader Xi Jinping—in response to calls from business and political leaders keen to see business restarted with China.
This follows years of economic coercion from Beijing—following demands for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19—that saw a swathe of Australian exporters hit with Chinese trade sanctions, including tariffs and inexplicable delays.
While officials work to establish frequent dialogue, U.S. and Australian leaders are still prepping their countries for potential conflict in the region, while continuing to deal with foreign interference threats.
Tensions Underway in the Background
In February, the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, while days earlier, the Department of Justice charged two suspected Chinese agents for attempting to bribe officials to help undermine the spiritual faith, Falun Gong.
John Chen, a 70-year-old U.S. citizen born in China, and Lin Feng, a Chinese citizen aged 43, attempted to “manipulate the IRS Whistleblower Program, through bribery and deceit,” in an attempt to strip a Falun Gong-run entity of its tax-exempt status, according to court filings unsealed on May 26.
Chen and Feng, who reside in California’s Chino City and Los Angeles, respectively, were arrested from their residences early Friday morning, a spokesperson from the FBI Los Angeles field office told The Epoch Times.
The action marks the first prosecution by U.S. authorities to deter the Chinese regime from targeting Falun Gong—a meditative practice that follows the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—in the United States.
The spiritual practice surged in popularity in China during the 1990s, leading to an estimated 100 million practitioners in the country. The communist regime perceived the group’s growth as a threat to its grip on power and, for the past 23 years, has instigated a severe campaign of persecution targeting the group.
In April, the FBI arrested two individuals allegedly running a secret police station in New York to track down and silence Chinese dissidents living in the United States, prosecutors said.
The police station is believed to be one of more than 100 overseas stations operated by the Chinese regime in 53 countries, according to Safeguard Defenders, a Spain-based nonprofit.
In Sydney, two alleged police stations have been discovered located in major ethnic Chinese community areas.
Meanwhile, on the geopolitical front, the U.S. continues to work with close allies in the western Pacific region, prepping for potential conflict over Taiwan.
In the northern Australian region, U.S. personnel and equipment have continued to steadily move into the city of Darwin with a constant marine rotation as well.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense is working with the Australian Department of Defence through the AUKUS deal to arm Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
The deal will also bolster collaboration between the U.S., UK, and Australia in cutting-edge fields like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, undersea capabilities, and hypersonic weapons.
Eva Fu contributed to this article.