Clinton wades into South China Sea territorial dispute
The Obama administration is continuing to hand out cookies to its friends in Southeast Asia with an eye towards hedging against China's rise. On Friday, it was Vietnam's turn.
In Hanoi at a meeting on Asian security, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes over the South China Sea is in the "national interest" of the United States. She also lobbied for a multilateral solution to the question.
This was music to Vietnam's ears, as Hanoi has been seeking a multilateral diplomatic approach to this issue for years. China, on the other hand, was irked -- it claims most of the sea as its own territory and has demanded that all disputed claims be settled bilaterally.
Vietnam and the United States were not alone in confronting China on this issue. At least 10 other members at Asia's top security forum raised concerns about maritime security issues, including the sensitive territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The U.S. stance on the resolution of the South China Sea dispute stands in clear contrast to China's position. While Beijing has yet to declare its version of the Monroe Doctrine in the resource rich area, Chinese maps show that Beijing claims vast portions of the sea, which stretches hundreds of miles south of China's southernmost province of Hainan to just off the coast of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Clinton told meeting participants that the United States had "a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea" and expressed support for a "collaborative diplomatic process."
"We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant," she said in prepared remarks for the forum. She later said the conversation was "very productive."
China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, was not amused; Beijing opposed any effort to "internationalize" the issue.
This marks the second time in two days that the Obama administration has taken steps to bolster friends in the region with an eye to China's rise.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Robert Gates announced that the administration would end a 12-year ban on relations with Indonesia's elite special forces.
| July 23, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
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