U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting China, and the ongoing dispute over the South China Sea is at the top of the agenda. On Wednesday Clinton met with President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. From Reuters:
“We believe the U.S.-China relationship is on a strong and solid base,” Clinton told Chinese President Hu Jintao at the start of talks, where pool reporters were given brief access.
“We are able to explore areas of agreement and disagreement in a very open manner, which I think demonstrates the maturity of the relationship and the chance to take it further in the future,” she said in opening remarks echoed by President Hu.
The overseas edition of state mouthpiece the People’s Daily, however, laid out Chinese concerns ahead of Clinton’s meetings with Chinese leaders, and suggested the United States is seeking to gain leverage from China’s tensions with Japan and Southeast Asian countries.
“The United States’ recent conduct concerning the Diaoyu islands and South China Sea issues cannot but create the suspicion that it is attempting to sow discord in order to fish for advantage,” said a front-page commentary in the paper, which broadly reflects official thinking.
China has been locked in dispute with a number of its neighbors over possession of territory in the South China Sea. During her tenure in Washington, Clinton has emphasized the importance the U.S. places on its role in the region. On her current tour of Asia, she has softened her rhetoric but is still calling on China to take action to resolve the issue. From the AP:
The U.S. wants China and the other claimants to adopt a binding code of conduct for the region, along with a process to resolve maritime disputes without coercion, intimidation or the use of force. Clinton wants the Chinese to drop their insistence on settling conflicting claims with individual nations and instead embrace a multilateral mechanism that will give the smaller members of the Association of South East Asian Nations greater clout in negotiations.
She urged all parties to make ‘‘meaningful progress’’ by a November summit of East Asian leaders that President Barack Obama plans to attend in Cambodia.
In Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, Clinton offered strong U.S. support for a regionally endorsed plan to ease rising tensions by implementing the code of conduct. Jakarta is the headquarters of ASEAN, and Clinton pressed the group to insist that China agree to deal with them as a bloc.
The stance puts the U.S. squarely at odds with China, which has become more aggressive in pressing its territorial claims with its smaller neighbors and wants the disputes to be resolved with each country, giving it greater leverage.