June 26 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. told China it wants tensions reduced in the South China Sea when senior diplomats from the two nations met at the inaugural U.S.-China Asia- Pacific Consultations that ended yesterday in Honolulu.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell said he had a “useful and productive exchange of views” with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai. Cui didn’t speak to the press after the meetings.
Cui, earlier this week, told the U.S. not to get involved in territorial disputes over the oil-and gas-rich South China Sea. “I believe some countries now are playing with fire and I hope the U.S. won’t be burned by this fire,” he said on June 22.
Recent Chinese moves to stop Vietnam and the Philippines exploring for oil and gas in disputed waters have drawn criticism from U.S. Congressional representatives. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 23 reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to defend the Philippines, a treaty ally.
China asserts jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea, including oil and gas blocks more than 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) from its shores. Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s claims as a basis for joint exploration, setting the stage for clashes in areas where Exxon Mobil Corp., Talisman Energy Inc., Forum Energy Plc and Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, have operations.
Claims to various islands and strategic shipping lanes have been made by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and Singapore. Vietnamese and Chinese boats have clashed twice in the South China Sea since late May.
Vietnam said China breached the exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles (320 kilometers) from its shores when it prevented Vietnamese vessels from conducting oil exploration surveys near the disputed Spratly islands.
Chinese ships chased away a Forum Energy survey vessel under contract from the Philippines in March, and rammed survey vessels operated by PetroVietnam twice in the past month. China has disputed that version of events, saying it is committed to maintaining peace in the seas.
The U.S., which has patrolled Asia-Pacific waters since World War II, has defense treaties with the Philippines and Thailand, and guarantees Taiwan’s security. The U.S. Navy has said it will conduct joint training exercises with both the Philippines and Vietnam over the next two months.
Earlier this week, Campbell said the U.S. had “no intention” of inflaming territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He said he wanted “recent tensions to subside and cooler heads to prevail.”
North Korea, Myanmar
Campbell said his discussions with Cui in Honolulu included military development, Chinese diplomacy with North Korea and Myanmar and U.S. interests in the region, as part of an effort to promote transparency.
Talks with China will continue at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Hawaii in November, at the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland, New Zealand, and at the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia.
The U.S. “welcomes a prosperous and successful China” and the two sides agreed to hold another round of talks in China at a mutually agreed upon time, Campbell said. “These dialogues enhance cooperation and contribute to better understanding between the U.S. and China.”
--Editors: Paul Tighe, Jim McDonald
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