(Bloomberg) -- China and Singapore agreed to work toward establishing a secure defense telephone link for high-level communications, as the two nations seek to bolster ties amid rising regional tensions.

Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu laid the groundwork for the hotline in a meeting in the city-state on Thursday with his Singaporean counterpart, Ng Eng Hen.

“High-level, open lines of communication are important for strengthening mutual understanding and trust,” Singapore’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The announcement of the hotline comes ahead of a major defense conference in Singapore this weekend that will draw hundreds of delegates including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. China has spurned a US request for a meeting between their defense chiefs.

China has previously said the US must lift sanctions imposed on its top general in 2018 for overseeing an arms purchase from Russia before such a meeting could take place.

--With assistance from Yanping Li.

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