x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Visit fails to calm US and China tension over sea dispute

China's claims over much of the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel islands, have put it at odds with Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi met the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Beijing.
China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi met the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Beijing.

BEIJING // Differences between the United States and China over disputed territory in the South China Sea remained obvious yesterday as Hillary Clinton held talks in Beijing during what is likely to be her final visit to China as US secretary of state.

Neither side gave ground on the South China Sea, which has emerged as a persistent irritant to both countries.

Mrs Clinton spoke of the need for multilateral negotiations to resolve differences, while China prefers to negotiate separately with each of the Asian countries with which its own claims conflict.

"Regarding the South China Sea, the position of the Chinese government has been consistent and clear cut," said Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister. "China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters."

China's claims over much of the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel islands, have put it at odds with Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

A similar dispute has set China against Japan in the East China Sea.

Mrs Clinton emphasised the importance of a code of conduct for the maritime region being finalised in time for November's East Asia Summit in Cambodia, although Mr Yang yesterday only spoke of the "eventual" adoption of the code.

Mrs Clinton told reporters that such disagreements did not, however, have to hobble cooperation.

"I'm very proud of the strength and resilience that we have built into our relationship," she said after talks with Mr Yang in the cavernous Great Hall of the People here."It makes it possible for us to talk about anything, and to find ways to tackle issues frankly and forthrightly," Mrs Clinton said, adding that the two sides would not see eye-to-eye on all the issues that are part of their vast relationship.

Mr Yang said "history and facts" showed "China and the United States have interwoven interests".

The contrasting attitudes of China and the United States towards the Syrian crisis were on show, too, with Mr Yang saying Beijing's approach of resisting outside intervention was the "appropriate handling" of the situation. Mrs Clinton said Washington was "disappointed" Beijing and Moscow had vetoed UN Security Council measures aimed at pressuring the Bashar Al Assad regime.

The US and other countries are upset that China and Russia have repeatedly used their veto powers in the UN Security Council to block actions that could have led to sanctions against Mr Al Assad's regime.

There were signs of a closer accord on Iran, with Mrs Clinton praising movement from Beijing over trade and energy ties as the international community looks to pressure Tehran over its nuclear programme. "China is willing to maintain and strengthen dialogue, communication and coordination with the US," Chinese President Hu Jintao told Mrs Clinton, according to the Chinese foreign ministry's website.

Mrs Clinton also had been scheduled to meet Vice President Xi Jinping, who is set to take over as China's top leader in a transition that begins later this year, but that was cancelled.

 

dbardsley@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters