Clinton warns of clashes in South China Sea

Bloomberg News

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned of more confrontations in the South China Sea without a regionwide solution as China rebuffed calls to expedite talks on rules for operating in disputed waters.

"Issues such as freedom of navigation and lawful exploitation of maritime resources often involve a wide region," Clinton said Thursday in remarks to Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in Phnom Penh. "Approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation."

Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said Wednesday that China would start talks on a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea "when conditions are ripe," according to Xinhua News Agency. It warned nations this week to avoid mentioning the territorial spats with Vietnam and the Philippines at the regional security meeting, which includes envoys from 26 Asia-Pacific nations and the European Union.

Diplomatic squabbling between the United States and China escalated after Clinton's remarks in Mongolia this week in which she criticized governments that lock up dissidents and hinder freedom of speech.

Thursday, The People's Daily blasted U.S. "arrogance" in commenting on human rights and democracy in Asia. "If the U.S. always shows up as a preacher, and always picks on democracy in Asia by standing high and looking down, or if it even wants to raise its flag to build a 'team' that can balance China's development, it will ultimately make itself marginalized," the editorial said.

The United States and the 10- member Association of Southeast Asian Nations called Wednesday for the "early conclusion" of a code of conduct that complies with the UN Law of the Sea, according to a statement. The summary of a separate meeting between ASEAN states and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi didn't mention the code of conduct.

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