Clinton meets China leaders amid South China Sea tension

The BBC's Jo Floto: "The US sees a diplomatic opportunity in Asia"

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting Chinese leaders amid rumbling regional tensions over the South China Sea.

Mrs Clinton said US-China ties were on a "solid basis" ahead of talks with President Hu Jintao.

But Chinese state media has hit out at US involvement in maritime disputes with its South East Asian neighbours.

One commentary accused the US of "attempting to sow discord in order to fish for advantage".

Mrs Clinton arrived in China late on Tuesday ahead of a full day of talks on Wednesday.

But a planned meeting with Vice-President Xi Jinping - widely expected to be China's next president - has been cancelled for unspecified reasons.

'No gains'

Meeting Mr Hu in the Great Hall of the People, Mrs Clinton said the bilateral relationship was strong.


The importance of the South China Sea island territories is clear - they represent footholds of sovereignty, sometimes of strategic importance - but also a ticket to the exploitation of natural resources such as minerals and fisheries.

Mrs Clinton may have chosen her words in Indonesia carefully but this is not really a moment for Sino-US harmony.

The political cycles in both countries - looming high-level leadership changes in Beijing and the presidential race in the US - mean that there is a good measure of nationalism on the one hand and some China-bashing on the other.

For Beijing, Washington's pivot to Asia and its new military strategy "AirSea Battle" suggest a policy of containing China.

And many in Washington fear that China's strident espousal of its territorial claims raise questions about its willingness to play the part of a responsible stakeholder in international affairs.

"We are able to explore areas of agreement and disagreement in a very open manner, which I think demonstrates the maturity of the relationship and the chance to take it further in the future," she said.

America's top diplomat arrived in Beijing from Indonesia, where talks had focussed on the territorial rows with China over the South China Sea and regional bloc Asean's role in resolving disputes.

Mrs Clinton said the US took no position on the claims, but urged Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) to "work collaboratively to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force".

Speaking at a joint press conference with the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Mrs Clinton repeated her call for a code of conduct to be agreed between China and Asean nations to lower tensions.

Mr Yang said freedom of navigation in the sea was assured and there would not "ever be issues in that area in the future". But he said China's position on the South China Sea was clear cut.

"China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters," he said.

State media, meanwhile, has continued to chide the US.

An editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily took a stronger line, referring also to another territorial row with Japan over East China Sea islands.

"The United States' recent conduct concerning the Diaoyu islands [called Senkaku by Japan] and South China Sea issues cannot but create the suspicion that it is attempting to sow discord in order to fish for advantage," it said.

"In the long term, this kind of adjustment in the United States' Asia-Pacific strategy will not bring gains, and could even backfire."


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