At the recent security summit in Singapore, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made headlines by seeking out Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu for a friendly handshake. This bold action came after China rejected Austin’s request for a meeting at the summit, raising eyebrows and sparking concerns about the relationship between the two countries.
The Pentagon had announced earlier in the week that China had declined Austin’s invitation for a formal meeting. In response, the Department of Defense expressed the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the U.S. and China to prevent competition from escalating into conflict. Undeterred, Austin and Shangfu shared a brief exchange at the summit’s opening dinner, with Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Riley confirming their interaction and the ongoing commitment to foster meaningful military discussions at multiple levels.
The Wall Street Journal documented the handshake between Austin and Shangfu, showcasing the friendly gesture on social media. In addition to the handshake, Shangfu was seated at the same table as Austin during the dinner, wherein they were joined by the Australian Prime Minister.
In a press conference held in Tokyo, alongside Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu, Austin addressed the importance of maintaining communication with China, emphasizing their common goals and values. He acknowledged China’s refusal for a meeting as an unfortunate situation, but reaffirmed his commitment to working cooperatively with like-minded countries to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Austin also highlighted his concerns about China’s provocative actions in the international airspace and waterways, underscoring that such incidents could escalate dangerously if left unchecked. Still, he reiterated his desire to engage with Chinese leadership and establish open channels of communication between the defense departments.
The Singapore security summit, officially known as the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, ran from June 2-4, hosting prominent global figures and offering a platform to address pressing security challenges.
In summary, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin didn’t let China’s rejection of a meeting stop him from reaching out to their Defense Minister at the Singapore security summit. This display of diplomacy underscores the importance of maintaining open channels of communication between nations, as well as the on-going commitment to foster meaningful military discussions to prevent conflict escalation.