Clinton Renews Call for Code of Conduct Between China, ASEAN

Posted September 5th, 2012 at 4:35 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed her call for China to agree on a code of conduct for managing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

At a Wednesday news conference in Beijing, Clinton told reporters it is in “everyone's interest” for China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to agree on the code. But Clinton denied accusations that the U.S. was attempting to rein in China's influence, saying Washington does not want “unhealthy competition” with Beijing.

“The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims. Our interest is in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce.”

Clinton's counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, said China remains committed to resolving the disputes “through direct negotiations and friendly consultations.” He also insisted that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is “assured.” China has insisted on bilateral negotiations with each of its weaker rival claimants in the energy rich region, a position that gives it considerably more clout.

Clinton is in the middle of a six-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific region that has largely focused on the South China Sea issue. But Clinton said she also discussed Syria, Iran, North Korea, and global economic challenges with Chinese leaders. She leaves for East Timor later Wednesday, before heading to Brunei and then Russia for a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Though Clinton met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, her Wednesday meeting with his likely successor, Xi Jinping, was canceled. State Department officials told VOA that China called off the meeting for “unexpected scheduling reasons,” adding that Xi's meetings with Singaporean and Russian officials had also been canceled.

Earlier this week, Clinton was in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, where she urged Southeast Asian nations to present a unified front in dealing with China on the territorial disputes. She made the appeal in meetings with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan.

China claims almost the entire sea and opposes entering into multi-lateral negotiations that would give smaller ASEAN members greater clout. Beijing prefers bilateral negotiations that would give it more leverage over rival claimants such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.