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US-China tensions expected to dominate Asia security meeting

Tensions between the United States and China are expected to loom over Asia’s top security meeting this week, as China has declined a bilateral meeting between the superpowers’ defence chiefs.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, which attracts top defence officials, senior military officers, diplomats, weapons makers and security analysts from around the globe, will take place June 2-4 in Singapore.

More than 600 delegates from 49 countries will attend the meeting, which opens with a keynote address by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Analysts say the dialogue is invaluable for the many bilateral and multilateral military-to-military meetings held on the sidelines of plenary sessions and speeches delivered by defence ministers.

China’s new Defence Minister Li Shangfu, however, has declined to meet U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Pentagon said on Monday.

China’s defence ministry spokesperson said in response to a query at a news conference in Beijing that exchanges between the two militaries have always been ongoing but that the U.S. was “entirely to blame” for current difficulties.

“On the one hand, the U.S. keeps saying that it wants to strengthen communication, but on the other hand, it ignores China’s concerns and artificially creates obstacles, seriously undermining the mutual trust between the two militaries,” said the spokesperson, without saying what the obstacles were.

Austin, speaking in Tokyo on Thursday, called it “unfortunate” that they would be no planned meeting.

“I would welcome any opportunity to engage with Li,” Austin said. “I think defence departments should be talking to each other on a routine basis or should have open channels for communications.”

Russia’s war in Ukraine, tensions between China and Taiwan and North Korea’s weapons programmes will also be high on the agenda of many delegates at the dialogue, analysts said. However, no Russian or North Korean government delegates will attend.

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