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U.S., Indonesia Urge Further Action on South China Sea

Foreign ministers and government officials attend the US - Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, July 23, 2011

Foreign ministers and government officials attend the US - Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, July 23, 2011

Top diplomats from the two countries discussed the issue in Bali

The United States and Indonesia Sunday called for urgent follow-up action on the agreement by China and the ASEAN countries on principles for a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the South China sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marti Natalegawa discussed the issue in a bilateral meeting in Bali.

Clinton and her Indonesian counterpart are hailing the ASEAN-China agreement but say it is only an initial step that must be followed by specific terms to end the destabilizing rivalry in the South China Sea.

The two top diplomats held talks as part of a bilateral U.S.-Indonesian joint commission that followed the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali.

At a joint press event, Clinton said ASEAN and China should move quickly, even urgently, on an actual code of conduct to avoid conflict in the vital maritime trade lanes through the South China Sea.

The top U.S. diplomat said, “We support a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants to resolve all of their disputes. What we do not support, are strongly against, is the use or threat of force by any nation to advance its claims.”

China lays claim to virtually the entire region, while there are competing claims to various parts of the South China Sea by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Clinton said a settlement process should begin with all the parties publicly laying out the specifics of their rival claims. She said this should be done in the context of the U.N. Law of the Seas Treaty and that all claims “must be related to territorial characteristics.”

Indonesia, as host of the ASEAN meetings, was instrumental in securing the initial agreement after eight years of failed diplomacy.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Natalegawa said he hoped for further advances in the process before his country hosts the East Asia Summit, which will include the United States for the first time, in November.

He said, “We do sincerely and genuinely feel that letting things no got anywhere, letting things be in a state of status quo, can be positively destabilizing, and creating uncertainty and opening up the potential of miscalculation. And this is what we wish to avoid. Transparency in terms of intent, in terms of claims, is extremely important. But all this must be done within the diplomatic process.”

The Indonesian official said tough diplomacy in the conference room is far preferable to incidents at sea, which have been on the increase in recent months.

The talks here also covered Burma, border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia, and human rights.

Asked about alleged repression of indigenous tribes in Indonesia's Papua and West Papua provinces by security forces, Natalegawa said human rights concerns are being addressed by the Jakarta government and it “doesn’t take an external party” to point out the country’s problems.

Clinton in turn said the United States supports “open dialogue” between the Indonesian government and Papuan representatives to address regional grievances.

Secretary Clinton said, “This is a matter for the Indonesian government and they are addressing it and we hope to see full implementation of the special autonomy law for Papua, which is a commitment on the part of the Indonesian government to address many of the concerns that have been expressed.”

Clinton the said the United States supports the territorial integrity of Indonesia, an apparent reference to calls by some ethnic Papuans for secession and unity with neighboring Papua-New Guinea.