What happened while Obama was in Asia? (+video)
President Obama's whirlwind Asia trip saw some surface compromise on disputed territorial issues, and the set up of a new Asian trade bloc.
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Now, however, “President Obama’s message is there needs to be a reduction of the tensions,” US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said after Tuesday's meetings. “There is no reason to risk any potential escalation, particularly when you have two of the world’s largest economies – China and Japan – associated with some of those disputes.”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Troubled waters: disputes in the China Seas
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China, too, sought to be diplomatic. “We do not want to bring the disputes to an occasion like this,” Wen told the summit, according to Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying, who briefed media on Tuesday evening.
It seemed China’s apparent effort to have host Cambodia play bad cop, however, may have backfired: Phnom Penh was forced to backtrack on assertions that southeast Asian countries reached a “consensus” that they would not “internationalize” the South China Sea issue – seen as code for Chinese requests that nonclaimant powers such the US and Japan steer clear of the dispute. Closing the summit, Cambodia's usually voluble Prime Minister Hun Sen refused to take questions during a press conference, saying "I am exhausted after these three days."
The Philippines, a US ally, said that there was no such agreement between member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and backed by Vietnam and Singapore, forced the final ASEAN communique on the issue to erase a section claiming a consensus.
Both the US and Japan raised the South China Sea issue in their meetings with ASEAN.
But, in an apparent softening of demands that ASEAN deal with China as a group on the issue, rather than see bilateral negotiations between China and claimant member-states, which is what China wants, the Philippines today proposed that “all claimants consider coming together to begin focusing on clarification of maritime claims.”
When asked by the Monitor if President Benigno Aquino's proposal meant an end to ASEAN or US involvement in the dispute, Manila's Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario replied, “Not necessarily.”
The Philippines and China faced-off earlier in 2012 at the Scarborough Shoal just off the Philippine coast. Both countries remain obdurate over the area, however, so overall, tensions remain.
“Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal] is China’s territory,” Deputy Foreign Minister Fu quoted Wen as telling the summit. “China’s act of defending its sovereignty is necessary and legitimate.”