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China Calls for US to Play 'Constructive' Role in Asia

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Stephanie Ho

A Chinese official says the United States has significant influence in Asia and urges it to play what she called a positive role in the region.

China's official news agency says one of the top overseas news stories of 2010 was the "return" of the United States to the Asia-Pacific region, which Xinhua said has complicated relations in the region.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Thursday refused to comment directly on a Xinhua report.

However, Jiang says China believes the United States has great influence on the region and hopes it could play what she described as a "constructive role in safeguarding regional peace and stability""  

She gave no details about what China considers constructive.

The Xinhua article Thursday pointed to what it called Washington's frequent interventions into disputes among Asian countries. This list included rising tensions between South and North Korea, and the Diaoyu islands, which both China and Japan claim. The article also points to U.S. involvement in multinational territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The United States has been a Pacific power for more than a century, and maintains strong alliances with several Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

The Chinese spokeswoman would not say if the U.S. presence in Asia will be discussed when President Hu Jintao goes to the United States next month.

Beijing, however, has made clear it is unhappy with U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, and that it does not think Washington has a role in the South China Sea territorial disputes.

Another U.S.-China dispute involves Beijing's recent announcement that it will cut exports of rare earth minerals, which are vital to making a range of electronic products and clean energy technology.

China has about a third of the world's rare earth reserves, but accounts for more than 90 percent of the global production. Earlier this week, China announced it would cut exports by nearly 11 percent for the first half of 2011.

Jiang says China has already made what she described as a "huge contribution for the supply and stability of the world's rare earth market," but that changes are necessary.

She says China is now conducting "management measures" to protect the environment and a finite resource.

She says Beijing believes these moves are in line with World Trade Organization rules. U.S. officials recently threatened to take the issue to the global trade body.

There was an effective slowdown in rare earth exports from China to Japan earlier this year, following the flare up of a controversy over the disputed Diaoyu Islands.

The Chinese spokeswoman said Thursday that economic development means that international demand for rare earths will increase, and she called on other countries to develop and exploit any rare earth resources they have.

Many mining companies in other countries shut down rare earth operations over the past 20 years, because, industry experts say, Chinese exports were under-priced and pushed them out of the market.

Now, however, as rare earth prices are rising, there are mines under development in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the United States.

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