Defense Sec. Austin, Chinese military leader shake hands

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shook hands with his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, at a dinner in Singapore Friday, underscoring the U.S.’s effort to maintain relations with China amidst growing tension between the two superpowers.

“The two leaders shook hands but did not have a substantive exchange,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder in a statement. He emphasized U.S. efforts to maintain “open lines of military-to-military communication” with China.

The two were not expected to meet at all during the annual defense and security forum that brought Austin to Singapore, after China rejected a U.S. invitation for a meeting.

The surprise exchange comes as the U.S. has begun repairing a relationship that grew acrimonious after a Chinese spy balloon was spotted earlier this year in U.S. air space. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China in the aftermath, but last month announced plans to reschedule his travel. The handshake also comes days after high-level trade discussions between the U.S. and China.

Lawmakers have also increasingly pointed to China as a threat to national security and pushed for more domestic manufacturing capabilities, such as for computer chips, to compete with China on renewable energy and other issues.

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