* Maritime disputes shadow U.S.-China ties
* Clinton visit comes at moment of political transition
* China Foreign Ministry suggest U.S. role not helpful in
By Andrew Quinn and Chris Buckley
JAKARTA/BEIJING, Sept 4 China warned the United
States not to get involved in South China Sea territorial
disputes on Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
arrived in Beijing pledging to pass on a strong message on the
need to calm regional tension.
The last time Clinton visited the Chinese capital, plans to
highlight improving U.S.-China ties were derailed by a blind
Chinese dissident whose dramatic flight to the U.S. embassy
exposed the deeply uneasy relationship.
The irritants this time are disputes over tiny islets and
craggy outcrops in oil- and gas-rich areas of the South and East
China Seas that have set China against U.S. regional allies such
as the Philippines and Taiwan.
U.S. officials say the message is once again one of
cooperation and partnership - and an important chance to compare
notes during a year of political transition.
But the unease remains, sharpened by disputes in the South
and East China Seas that have rattled nerves across the region
and led to testy exchanges with Washington just as the Obama
administration "pivots" to the Asia-Pacific region following
years of military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei suggested at a
daily news briefing that Washington was not a helpful force in
the maritime disputes.
"We have noted that the United States has stated many times
that it does not take sides," he said when asked about the U.S.
role. "We hope that the United States will abide by its promises
and do more that is beneficial to regional peace and stability,
and not the opposite."
Chinese newspapers, including Communist Party mouthpiece the
People's Daily, have suggested the South China Sea territorial
claims are among Beijing's "core national interests" - a term
suggesting they share the same importance as sovereignty over
Tibet and Xinjiang.
Hong did not directly answer a question about whether that
was the government's official position.
"China, like any other country in the world, has the duty to
protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.
Clinton arrived in Beijing late on Tuesday, huddling with
U.S. officials on board her plane before heading off to meetings
with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi followed by a dinner.
In Jakarta on Monday, she urged China and its Southeast
Asian neighbours to move quickly on a code of conduct for the
South China Sea and stressed that disputes should be resolved
"without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and
certainly without the use of force"..
But progress has been thwarted in recent months by China's
increasingly assertive posture, which has included establishing
a garrison on a disputed island and stepping up patrols of
That suggests Beijing has no intention of backing down on
its unilateral claim to sovereignty over a huge stretch of ocean
and potentially equally large energy reserves.
Clinton faces a balancing act, pushing on the territorial
disputes while keeping cooperation on track on other issues
including reining in the North Korean and Iranian nuclear
programmes, the Syria crisis and economic disputes that have
long bedevilled the two countries.
"One of the challenges before us is to demonstrate how we
deal with areas in which we have different perceptions and where
we face challenging issues on the ground, or in this case on the
water," one senior U.S. official said.
But some Chinese media have been blunt in their opposition
to Clinton. The Global Times, a popular, nationalist tabloid,
accused her of "deeply intensifying mutual suspicion".
"Many Chinese people dislike Hillary Clinton," it said in an
editorial. "She has brought new and extremely profound mutual
distrust between the mainstream societies of the two countries,
and removing that will not be easy."
Clinton on Wednesday will meet outgoing President Hu Jintao
and Vice President Xi Jinping, the man who will likely succeed
him as paramount leader following a Communist Party congress
Xi visited the United States in February on a get-acquainted
tour and U.S. officials expect him to be a steady-handed leader.
But concerns over China's fast-expanding influence and its
belligerent tone in the regional disputes have Washington
scrambling to assess how Beijing's political stars are lining
China, too, has its concerns and has pushed back against
U.S. attempts to referee the South China Sea dispute and insert
itself into similar rows between China, Japan and South Korea
over islands in the East China Sea.
While Washington has stressed that it takes no position on
the competing claims and simply wants to see a mechanism
established to resolve them, its forceful calls on China to play
along have had a cool reception in Beijing.
Mark Valencia, a Hawaii-based expert on Asia-Pacific
maritime disputes, said the recent exchanges left "no doubt that
the U.S. is siding with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian
Nations) -- not necessarily saying that their claim is correct,
but that the bases of their claims have more merit than those of
During Clinton's last China visit in April, dissident Chen
Guangcheng stole the headlines with his made-for-TV escape from
house arrest, flight to the U.S. embassy and eventual decision
to take a U.S.-brokered deal to travel to New York.
U.S. officials are hoping for no such surprises during
Clinton's 24-hour visit, saying this is a moment for stability,
not stirring the waters.
"I think the secretary intends very clearly to underscore
our continuing interest in maintaining a strong, positive
relationship," the senior U.S. official said.