China 'constructive' on South China Sea rows, says US

US President Barack Obama (R) meets with China's Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, 19 November 2011 The meeting was the final engagement of Mr Obama's trip to Asia

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US officials have praised China's attitude on South China Sea territorial disputes after talks between Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Barack Obama.

The two men met on the sidelines of an East Asia summit in Indonesia.

A senior US official described China's response as "constructive".

The meeting came after spats between Beijing and Washington over trade, currency and territorial rights in the South China Sea.

The sea holds potentially vast reserves of oil and gas, and is an important shipping route.

China lays claim to the whole of the sea, while other South East Asian nations claim parts of it.

The talks took place as the last engagement of Mr Obama's nine-day visit to Asia.

He has been focused on boosting US influence in the region at a time when China wields growing power.

'Not taking sides'

US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said the "informal meeting" between Mr Obama and Mr Wen focused mainly on economic issues.

He said the two leaders discussed "specific issues around business practices" as well as Chinese currency controls.

Mr Donilon said the United States did not have a view on sovereignty on the South China Sea, but wanted to see shipping lanes remain open.

"We don't have a claim, we don't take sides in the claims, but we do as a global maritime power have an interest in seeing these principles applied broadly," he said.

On Friday, in comments which appeared directed at the US, Mr Wen warned "external forces" not to get involved in the maritime dispute.

The Philippines had asked the US to step in to help solve the row, but Asean secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said that Asean and China could resolve the issue peacefully by themselves.

On Thursday, Mr Obama pledged increased US engagement with the region and a strong military presence, including the deployment of US Marines to Australia.

Mr Donilon said the United States had been "quite direct with the Chinese about our strategy", making clear that Washington was determined to play an active presence in the region to help ensure its stability and peace.

Official Chinese media was sceptical on Saturday, saying the US risked losing friends among Asian Pacific nations.

"If the United States sticks to its Cold War mentality and continues to engage with Asian nations in a self-assertive way, it is doomed to incur repulsion in the region," the news agency said.

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