Bali: The United States and China moved to repair strained ties on Friday, saying tensions over the South China Sea were easing with new conduct guidelines between Beijing and Southeast Asian nations.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, meeting at Asia’s biggest security conference, appeared eager to ensure the dispute over the oil and gas-rich waters did not become another source of friction between the world’s largest economy and the second-largest.
”I want to commend China and ASEAN for working so closely together to include implementation guidelines for the declaration of conduct in the South China Sea,” Clinton said at the meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
China acquiesced to the new guidelines on Thursday after almost a decade of deadlock, in what may have been an attempt to mollify ASEAN enough to take the topic off the table before Clinton’s arrival.
China, Taiwan, and four ASEAN members — the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam — all claim territory in the South China Sea and Washington has irritated Beijing by declaring it also has a national interest at stake in ensuring freedom of navigation and trade.
China says it has had undisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea since ancient times, and is adamant about not involving other parties to help resolve the matter.
China has also accused the U.S. of triggering tension in the region by holding naval drills, and President Barack Obama’s meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama last week has added further strains.
Foreign minister Yang, hosting Clinton for bilateral talks on the sidelines of the ASEAN security forum, said the South China Sea guidelines would ”go a long way to maintaining peace and stability and good neighbourliness in the region”.
Diplomats said the guidelines were only a small, but important, step towards resolving one of the region’s longest-standing disputes.
”If parties concerned abide by the guidelines, certainly tensions will be reduced,” said a senior Asian diplomat.
”We have to engage with China so China takes the right course. China has to understand international rules and the South China Sea dispute is an important test case.” (PTI)