JAKARTA, Indonesia – Southeast Asian states must present a united front to the Chinese in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea to “literally calm the waters,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today.
And she urged all involved to make “meaningful progress” on a process for ending conflicts by November.
In Indonesia’s capital before heading to China, Clinton offered strong U.S. support for a regionally endorsed six-point plan to ease rising tensions by implementing a code of conduct for all claimants to disputed islands.
Jakarta is the headquarters of the Association of South East Asian Nations, and Clinton pressed the group to insist that China agree to a formal multilateral mechanism to reduce short-term risks of conflict and ultimately come to final settlements over sovereignty.
The stance puts the U.S. squarely at odds with China, which has become increasingly assertive in pressing its territorial claims with its smaller neighbors and wants the disputes to be resolved individually with each country, giving it greater leverage than dealing with a bloc.
Clinton made the case in meetings today with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan, a day after she delivered the same message to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
Indonesia has played a leading role in putting the six-point plan together after ASEAN was unable to reach consensus on the matter in July.
Clinton said the U.S. is “encouraged” by the plan but wants it acted on – particularly implementation and enforcement of the code of conduct, which has languished since a preliminary framework for it was first agreed upon in 2002. Clinton said the U.S. wants to see the disputes resolved between China and ASEAN.
The U.S. believes the alliance has collective clout that its 10 members do not have individually, and Clinton said the U.S. sees it as important for ASEAN and China to have something to show for their efforts by a November summit of East Asian leaders that President Barack Obama plans to attend in Cambodia.