Clinton to Push South China Sea Issue in Beijing Talks

Posted September 4th, 2012 at 1:25 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is headed to Beijing, where 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, which include 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 in order 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 Chinese leaders, who have so far rejected U.S. involvement in the maritime disputes. The Global Times, a Communist Party paper, on Tuesday warned that Washington has caused frictions between China and its neighbors. It also said Clinton's legacy is one of causing “deep harm” to the U.S.-China relationship.

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 entire first term in office.

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.” Washington has said it does not take sides in the disputes, but has recently criticized Beijing for establishing an army garrison in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

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.