Clinton to Push South China Sea Issue in Beijing Talks

Posted September 4th, 2012 at 5:20 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is headed to Beijing. She has promised to take a strong message to Chinese leaders on the issue of resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Clinton wants China to work with the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations on a code of conduct for managing the disputes, in hopes of preventing continued flare-ups in the resource-rich region. Beijing, which claims nearly the entire sea, has resisted signing such a code. It instead prefers to deal individually with rival claimants individually, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Before leaving Indonesia for China Tuesday, Clinton said Southeast Asian nations must present a unified front in dealing with the disputes to “literally calm the waters.” She made her comments following meetings in Jakarta with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan.

Clinton will hold two days of talks with senior Chinese leaders, who have so far rejected U.S. involvement in the maritime disputes. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei warned against U.S. “interference” at a regular news conference Tuesday.

“We have noticed the United States has said many times that it will not hold a position on the South China Sea issue. We hope they can keep their promises and do more things that are conducive to regional peace and stability, not the opposite.”

Chinese state media also unleashed a series of attacks on U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific on Tuesday. The Global Times, a Communist party newspaper, warned that Washington has caused friction between China and its neighbors, while the Xinhua news agency accused Washington of being a “sneaky trouble maker.”

Ralph Cossa, a security analyst at the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum, tells VOA there is little chance of an all-out armed conflict between China and any of its rival claimants. But he also says Clinton is unlikely to make any substantial progress on a code of conduct during her China visit.

“I am very pessimistic that a meaningful code of conduct will be established. There may at some point be something that's called a 'code,' but I doubt that it will have any verification or enforcement mechanisms. And, without that, it will be just another piece of paper that people will violate.”

Washington has said it does not take sides in the sea disputes, but has been critical about China's increasingly assertive maritime claims. On Monday, Clinton did not criticize China directly, but said “no party should take any steps that would increase tensions or do anything that would be viewed as coercive or intimidating.”

Clinton is in the middle of a six-nation Asian tour, her third to the region since May, as she helps implement Washington's strategic “pivot” toward the Pacific. It could be her last visit to China as secretary of state, as she has said she plans to step down after serving under President Obama during his first term in office.

Clinton's talks in China are also expected to be focused on human rights, as well as several other international issues, including the Syrian crisis and the Iranian nuclear program. Her last visit to China was overshadowed by the plight of Chinese dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who took refuge in the U.S. embassy and later fled to the United States after reporting abuses while under house arrest in China.