US seeks to ease Chinese fears over US interest in S. China Sea disputes

By Foster Klug, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

US seeks to ease Chinese fears

WASHINGTON — The United States sought Tuesday to ease China’s worries over a strong U.S. presence in the South China Sea, where Beijing and its neighbors are bickering over territorial claims.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said the United States is concerned about rising tensions in the disputed waters and wants “cool-headed diplomacy” to replace heated emotions. He urged freedom of navigation.

“We have not aimed this at any country,” Campbell said. “Our goal here, frankly, is to create a more stable, predictable environment, and we have no intention of taking sides or stoking up tensions in the South China Sea.”

China claims all the South China Sea, but Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have laid territorial claims.

Beijing reacted with fury after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a regional security forum in Vietnam in July that the peaceful resolution of disputes over the Spratly and Paracel island groups was an American national interest. Beijing said Washington was interfering in an Asian regional issue.

The United States worries the disputes could hurt access to one of the world’s busiest commercial sea lanes.

President Barack Obama and Southeast Asian leaders last week “agreed on the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation, regional stability and respect for international law, including in the South China Sea,” according to a readout of the meeting provided by the White House.

Campbell, speaking at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Texas Christian University’s Schieffer School of Journalism, also praised Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s handling of a tense territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea.

Campbell said Kan recognized that cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing is crucial to stability in Asia. Japan has released a fishing captain whose boat collided with two Japanese patrol boats near disputed islands. The detention stoked nearly three weeks of tensions.

China has demanded an apology and compensation for the detention. Tokyo countered by demanding that Beijing pay for damage to the patrol boats.

Kan, who has been accused of bowing to Chinese pressure, “handled a very difficult situation with statesmanship,” Campbell said. “He understood that there was a larger issue at play here, a need, a desire for these two countries to work together.”

Campbell said he is “confident that, over time, some of the damage that has been done can be repaired.”

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