Sino-US tensions escalated sharply at the weekend as China declined an invitation to explore further trade talks and summoned Washington’s ambassador to Beijing to protest over sanctions imposed on a Chinese military officer.  Zheng Zeguang, vice foreign minister responsible for US affairs, called in Terry Branstad after Washington imposed sanctions on the People’s Liberation Army unit responsible for weapons development and its director, Lt Gen Li Shangfu.

The US on Thursday said the PLA’s Equipment Development Department had bought jets and missiles from a Russian arms exporter subject to US sanctions imposed in response to Moscow’s “aggression in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, cyber intrusions, interference in the 2016 [US presidential] elections and other malign activities”.  Such activities, the spokesperson added, “earn [Moscow] revenue that it funnels back to the defence and intelligence sectors to enable these malign activities”.  In his meeting with Mr Branstad, Mr Zheng said: “Sino-Russian military co-operation is a normal activity between two sovereign states that the US has no right to interfere in.”

He added: “The US actions have seriously damaged relations between [Beijing and Washington] and their militaries … China strongly urges the US to immediately correct its mistakes and revoke the so-called sanctions.”  The Chinese defence ministry expressed the PLA’s “strong indignation and resolute opposition” to the sanctions, which he said constituted “a flagrant breach of basic rules of international relations” and “a stark display of hegemonism” by the US. The defence ministry added that it had cut short a US visit by the PLA Navy’s commander, Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong, and would postpone Sino-US military talks originally planned to take place in Beijing on September 25.