Clinton Renews Call for Code of Conduct Between China, ASEAN

Posted September 5th, 2012 at 12:50 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. 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.

But Clinton denied accusations that the U.S. was attempting to rein in China's influence, saying Washington does not take a side in the disputes and does not want “unhealthy competition” with Beijing. She said Washington's concern is maintaining peace and stability and preserving freedom of navigation in the strategic waterway.

Clinton's counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, told reporters that China is still 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.”

Clinton's two days of talks in Beijing have already included meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders in Beijing, where she praised the U.S.-China relationship as being built on a “strong and solid base.”

China's likely next president, Xi Jinping, canceled a Wednesday meeting with Clinton. State Department officials told VOA the meeting was called off for “unexpected scheduling reasons,” adding that Xi's meetings with Singaporean and Russian officials had also been canceled.

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.

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.