(Bloomberg) -- Beijing still hasn’t given a formal response to the US request for a meeting between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu at an upcoming forum in Singapore, a senior US defense official said Thursday. 

“Secretary Austin and the Department of Defense initiated a request to meet with General Li, and that request has not been answered one way or another,” Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The ball is in their court at this point.”

The US proposed a meeting between the two defense ministers at the Shangri-La Dialogue that will take place in Singapore next week.

The US has recently sought to restore talks with top officials in China after relations soured in recent months, most notably after an alleged Chinese spy balloon crossed the US. Meetings have been planned this week between commerce and trade officials, which followed two days of discussions earlier this month between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat.  

Without directly responding to the US request, China has voiced concerns about US sanctions that the US imposed on Li in 2018 over the role he played overseeing an arms purchase from Russia. China argues that Li wouldn’t be on equal footing with Austin if the sanctions stayed in place, Bloomberg News reported earlier. 

Ratner reaffirmed the Pentagon’s stance that the sanctions on Li don’t pose a legal obstacle to a meeting between the two defense ministers, adding that military-to-military ties are crucial to managing future crises that could risk escalating into a military conflict. 

“The question again, for the PRC, is ‘do we need to have a major crisis before we take things things seriously?’” Ratner said, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “Our argument is, let’s do it now.”

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