The United States is urging the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. U.S. diplomats are saying Southeast Asia countries should negotiate a binding code of conduct with China.
U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. told reporters in Manila Monday that while the United States is not directly involved in regional disputes in the South China Sea, it would be happy to help the 10 ASEAN countries to negotiate a deal.
"The United States does not take a side," he said. "What we have said, however, is that the claimant states should come to their agreements, that, because there are disagreements between several of the claimant states; and this should be decided at the negotiating table."
U.S. involvement in such negotiations could anger China, which has advised the United States not to interfere in what it considers a purely Asian matter. While neither China nor the United States is a part of ASEAN, Ambassador Thomas says it is an important issue for all of its members.
"We believe that ASEAN should work together in negotiations with other states. We seek no conflict with any state including China," said Thomas. "This should be decided peacefully, and according to, there should be a code of conduct."
China's ambassador to the Philippines, Liu Jianchao, told reporters in Manila last week that meetings have been held between China and ASEAN and that a formal code of conduct already is being negotiated.
Ambassador Thomas says the United States is ready to help if asked.
"We have to wait for ASEAN and China to agree to sit down, and then when ASEAN develops its goals and objectives, if they ask for assistance on specific items, we'll be happy to assist - if asked," added Thomas.
Most of the ASEAN countries say they would like to address the disputes on a multilateral basis. China has preferred to deal with each of its neighbors individually.
Two senior U.S. diplomats were told during a visit to China earlier this year that Beijing considers the entire South China Sea a core national interest. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States has a national interest in maintaining free navigation through the South China Sea.