September 05, 2012

Sec. Clinton Urges Countries to "Literally Calm the Water" in South China Sea

All eyes are on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her visit to the Asia Pacific this week.

On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with officials of the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in Jakarta where she encouraged ASEAN leaders to work cooperatively with China to resolve the longstanding territorial dispute in the South China Sea. “The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims ... but we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force," Secretary Clinton said, according to a report on CBSNews.com. "That is why we encourage ASEAN and China to make meaningful progress toward finalizing a comprehensive code of conduct in order to establish rules of the road and clear procedures for peacefully addressing disagreements."

While meeting with officials in Indonesia, Secretary Clinton reiterated America’s interest in the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute, saying “The United States has a national interest, as every country does, in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea." 

Secretary Clinton also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Beijing on Tuesday and is expected to meet with other top Chinese officials today to discuss a range of issues, including Syria and the South China Sea.

Before arriving in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a public statement reacting to Secretary Clinton’s visit with ASEAN officials in Jakarta. “The U.S. has many times said it does not take a position,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, according to a Washington Post report. “I hope they will keep their promise and do more to help stability and not the opposite. The South China Sea dispute is a complicated thing. To China, the South China Sea dispute is about the sovereignty of some of the islands there. China, like other countries in the world, has the obligation to safeguard its territories.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Japanese media outlets reported that Tokyo plans to purchase a group of uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan, that are at the heart of a territorial dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea. According to a report in Japan’s The Asahi Shimbun, “The Noda administration will pay 2.05 billion yen ($26 million) for the islands” from a private Japanese landowner. The deal is likely to strike a chord with Chinese officials and may escalate tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.

For more on the dispute in the East China Sea, see a recent CNAS Flashpoints Bulletin by Michael Auslin, “Don’t Forget About the East China Sea.”

To learn more about U.S. interests in the South China Sea, read CNAS’s January 2012 report, Cooperation from Strength: The United States, China and the South China Sea

Photo: Secretary of State Clinton departed Indonesia for China Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Courtesy of the U.S. State Department. 

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