Talks between US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese leaders yesterday failed to narrow gaps on how to end the crisis in Syria and how to resolve Beijing’s territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea.
Clinton, who met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) and other top officials, but not Vice President and leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping (習近平), wants China to stop backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has been pushing for it to be more flexible in lowering tensions over the potentially oil-rich South China Sea.
However, comments from Clinton and Yang showed the countries remain deeply divided on those issues, although both said they are committed to working together despite the differences.
The US and its allies are upset that China and Russia have repeatedly used their veto powers in the UN Security Council to block actions that could have led to sanctions against al-Assad’s regime. China says Syria’s civil war needs to be resolved through negotiations and not outside pressure.
“I think history will judge that China’s position on the Syria question is a promotion of the appropriate handling of the situation,” Yang told a news conference with Clinton. “For what we have in mind is the interests of the people of Syria and the region and the interests of peace, stability and development in the region and throughout the world.”
Clinton responded that the violence was boiling over into other countries like Turkey and that the Security Council has to act.
Clinton had been scheduled to meet Xi, but that was canceled by the Chinese for “unexpected scheduling reasons,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. A meeting between Xi and visiting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) was also canceled without explanation.
Before meeting Hu, Clinton said the US-China relationship is strong even though there are disagreements over issues like Syria, the South China Sea and human rights.
“We are able to explore areas of agreement and disagreement in a very open manner, which I think demonstrates the maturity of the relationship and the chance to take it further in the future,” she said.
In talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao (溫家寶), Clinton was also put on notice that China disagrees with the US push into Asia.
“The US should respect China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, respect China’s national core interests and the people’s feelings,” Wen said.
Clinton arrived in China from Indonesia where she urged Southeast Asian nations to present a unified front in dealing with Beijing in attempts to ease rising tensions in the South China Sea. China, Taiwan and several ASEAN members have overlapping claims to several small but potentially energy-rich areas of sea, reefs and islands.
The US wants China and the other claimants to adopt a binding code of conduct for the region, along with a process to resolve maritime disputes without coercion, intimidation or the use of force.
Clinton wants the Chinese to drop their insistence on settling conflicting claims with individual nations and instead embrace a multilateral mechanism that will give the smaller members of ASEAN greater clout in negotiations.
Yang, however, repeated China’s statements that it is ready to discuss the sea disputes only through bilateral talks. He was cool to the idea of reaching an agreement before November, saying that China and some of its friends in ASEAN wanted to work only toward the “eventual adoption of a code of conduct.”