May 20, 2013
Obama, Wen to meet during Bali summit
The United States and China are set to face off on Saturday at a regional summit over the thorny issue of how to resolve competing claims to sovereignty of the South China Sea, the latest point of friction between the two powerful nations.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao insisted on Friday that "outside forces" had no excuse to get involved in the complex maritime dispute, a veiled warning to the United States and other countries to keep out of the sensitive issue.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have claims to parts of the South China Sea, a major route for some $5 trillion in trade each year and potentially rich in resources. China claims large parts of the maritime region.
The Southeast Asian countries along with the United States and Japan are pressuring Beijing to try to seek some way forward on the knotty issue of sovereignty, which flared up again this year with often tense maritime stand-offs that an Australian think tank said could lead to conflict.
China wants to hold bilateral talks with other countries that claims parts of the South China Sea as their territory, but the Southeast Asian claimants, the United States and Japan are pushing for a multilateral approach.
"It ought to be resolved through friendly consultations and discussions by countries directly involved. Outside forces should not, under any pretext, get involved," Wen told a meeting with Southeast Asian leaders on Friday, several of whose countries claim sovereignty to parts of the South China Sea.
Wen's comments were carried on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website.
Obama has been more low key as far as public comments are concerned. He told the leaders of India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia in bilateral meetings that the East Asia Summit, which draws together Southeast Asian nations and eight dialogue partners, was the right arena to discuss maritime disputes.
US Deputy National Security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes, said earlier this week that "in the discussion about maritime security, the South China Sea will clearly be a concern."
Obama and Wen plan to meet on the sidelines of the summit before the leaders start their formal meeting.