Phnom Penh: The Obama administration pressed Beijing on Thursday to accept a code of conduct for resolving territorial disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea, a difficult US mediation effort that has faced resistance from the communist government. It has endeared US, however, to once-hostile countries in Southeast Asia.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' annual conference, where several governments have expressed worry about China's expansive maritime claims. Tensions have threatened to boil over in recent months, with a standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships and sharp disagreements between China and Vietnam.
China claims virtually the entire area and has created an entirely new city to administer it, sparking deep concern from rival claimants. The sea hosts about a third of the world's cargo traffic, has rich fishing grounds and is believed to store vast oil and gas reserves.
"The United States has no territorial claims there and we do not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries," Clinton told foreign ministers gathered in Cambodia's capital. "But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea."
Asian countries should "work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and without use of force," Clinton added.
ASEAN's 10 members announced earlier this week that they have drafted a set of rules governing maritime rights and navigation, and procedures for when governments disagree. But China is not a member of the group and hasn't agreed to anything.
The ASEAN countries are presenting their proposal to China at this week's conference in Cambodia's capital, though Beijing will probably want to water down any language that ties its hands.