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Lift sanctions to have military cooperation, China tells US


Beijing’s new defense minister was slapped with personal restrictions in 2018 for buying Russian arms

The US’ unilateral sanctions are standing in the way of military-to-military cooperation with China, a senior Chinese diplomat has said. Beijing previously refused to agree to a meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and newly appointed Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who is under personal sanctions.

The stumbling block to cooperation was articulated on Wednesday by Liu Pengyu, the spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington. The sanctions “should be removed before any exchange and cooperation could take place between the two countries,” he said during a briefing, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Liu did not specify which particular sanctions he was referring to, but the outlet said that he was “likely referring” to the personal restrictions imposed on Li back in 2018. The minister was among the Chinese officials targeted by the administration of then-US President Donald Trump under CAATSA, a law meant to punish America’s “adversaries.”

Li was hit for his role in the procurement of Russian S-400 air defense systems and Su-35 jets for the People’s Liberation Army. However, Washington has been notoriously selective in applying CAATSA, and chose not to target Indian officials for purchasing the same S-400 systems from Russia.

Li was appointed the new Chinese defense minister in March. Austin’s office has failed to secure a meeting with him since then. A proposal for the two to meet on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in June was rebuffed by Beijing.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, Chinese officials privately told their Americans counterparts that Li and Austin cannot be on equal footing as long as the sanctions are in place. The position poses a conundrum for the administration of President Joe Biden, which wishes to rebuild military communications with China but risks appearing weak should it acquiesce to the demands to remove the measures.

US-Chinese ties, including through military channels, were downgraded by Beijing in retaliation for the visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last August. According to media reports, Biden was unable to convince Beijing that his administration had nothing to do with the top lawmaker’s trip, which she made against Chinese objections.

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