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Clinton Meets ASEAN Leaders About South China Sea

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, 4th left, joins hands with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and ASEAN leaders during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia September 4, 2012.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Indonesia Tuesday with the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to discuss rival territorial claims to the South China Sea.

Secretary Clinton met with ASEAN's Surin Pitsuwan and permanent representatives to the regional body's secretariat in Jakarta.

Senior State Department officials say she was seeking their advice on how the United States can best help resolve competing territorial claims to the South China Sea.

The Obama administration is encouraging ASEAN members to work as a group in negotiating a code of conduct with China to set parameters for resolving the dispute. China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, and the Philippines all have competing territorial claims to parts of the South China Sea.

Secretary Clinton says all nations have an interest in maintaining regional peace and stability.

"The United States believes very strongly that no party should take any steps that would increase tensions or do anything that could be viewed as coercive or intimidating to advance their territorial claims," she said.

Secretary Clinton says encouraging ASEAN unity is not just about China. It is also about resolving rival maritime claims within the group itself.

"There are many claimants. It’s not just ASEAN members claiming vis-a-vis China. There are claims within ASEAN members themselves," Clinton added. "So this is in everyone’s interest and it is time for diplomacy. We have the East Asia Summit coming up in Phnom Penh in November."

Clinton says that should be the diplomatic goal: to make progress on a "robust code of conduct to literally calm the waters" before that summit in Cambodia.

Secretary Clinton met with ASEAN leaders in Jakarta following talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says ASEAN's path is clear: to apply itself to getting a code of conduct done.

"Absent a code of conduct, absent a diplomatic process, we can be certain of more incidents and more tension for our region. So it is a win-win relationship," said Natalegawa. "It is not only right that ASEAN must be united, but it is also the smart thing to do, because absent an ASEAN unity, the question will become like a loose cannon in the way the issue is being discussed."

Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea will be part of Secretary Clinton's talks in Beijing and Brunei as well as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Russia.