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U.S. and China meet in Honolulu over South China Sea tensions

    About 100 Vietnamese stage a protest near the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, June 26, 2011. Vietnamese protesters marched through the capital's streets for a fourth straight week, calling for China to stop entering Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea as tensions between the neighbors continue to flare. (AP Photo/Margie Mason)


The U.S. told China that tensions must be reduced in the South China Sea when the countries held the inaugural U.S.-China Asia-Pacific Consultations in Honolulu.

Talks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai were “useful and productive,” Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell said when the forum ended Saturday. Cui didn’t speak to the press after the meetings.

Cui last week told the U.S. not to get involved in territorial disputes over the oil-and gas-rich South China Sea.

China’s recent moves to stop Vietnam and the Philippines exploring for oil and gas in disputed waters have drawn criticism from U.S. Congressional representatives. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 23 reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to defend the Philippines, a treaty ally.

China asserts jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea, including oil and gas blocks more than 625 miles from its shores. Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s claims as a basis for joint exploration, setting the stage for clashes in areas where Exxon Mobil Corp., Talisman Energy Inc., Forum Energy Plc and Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, have operations.

Claims to various islands and strategic shipping lanes have been made by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and Singapore. Vietnamese and Chinese boats have clashed twice in the South China Sea since late May.

Vietnam said China breached the exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles from its shores when it prevented Vietnamese vessels from conducting oil exploration surveys near the disputed Spratly islands.

China and Vietnam agreed to address their dispute through negotiations and consultations, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday after Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo met with Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son in Beijing yesterday.

Chinese ships chased away a Forum Energy survey vessel under contract from the Philippines in March, and rammed survey vessels operated by PetroVietnam twice in the past month. China has disputed that version of events, saying it is committed to maintaining peace in the seas.

The U.S., which has patrolled Asia-Pacific waters since World War II, has defense treaties with the Philippines and Thailand, and guarantees Taiwan’s security. The U.S. Navy has said it will conduct joint training exercises with both the Philippines and Vietnam over the next two months.

Earlier this week, Campbell said the U.S. had “no intention” of inflaming territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He said he wanted “recent tensions to subside and cooler heads to prevail.”

Campbell said his discussions with Cui in Honolulu included military development, Chinese diplomacy with North Korea and Myanmar and U.S. interests in the region, as part of an effort to promote transparency.

Talks with China will continue at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Hawaii in November, at the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland, New Zealand, and at the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

The U.S. “welcomes a prosperous and successful China” and the two sides agreed to hold another round of talks in China at a mutually agreed upon time, Campbell said. “These dialogues enhance cooperation and contribute to better understanding between the U.S. and China.”


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