PHNOM PENH – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met Thursday in Cambodia to discuss how best to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Secretary Clinton said no nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions and the uptick in controversial rhetoric over the South China Sea.
"We have seen worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fishermen," she said.
China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan all have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea. The dispute dominated talks here at the meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
ASEAN this week failed to agree on a unified approach to a code of conduct governing resolution of the standoff. But U.S. officials say Chinese Foreign Minister Yang gave Secretary Clinton "a careful indication" that Beijing is willing to join a dialogue on the code as soon as September, ahead of November's ASEAN summit here in Cambodia.
Yang said China and the United States are building a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. Beijing and Washington are continuing toexpand common ground, respect each other and "properly handle differences and sensitive issues," he said.
The Obama administration is not taking sides in any of the disputes over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea, Clinton said.
"But we do have a fundamental interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce. And we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats, and certainly without the use of force," she said.
China says ASEAN is not the place to resolve these disputes because it is not about the regional forum, it is between China and some ASEAN members.
Secretary Clinton agreed that, wherever possible, territorial issues should be resolved between claimants.
But she added that broader questions about conduct in disputed areas and about acceptable methods of resolving disputes should be addressed in multilateral settings such as ASEAN "because approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation."