Obama calls for measures to stop China Sea clashes

DIPLOMACY: After a standoff between a US survey ship and Chinese vessels last Sunday, the US president said it was important to increase dialogue with China


Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 7

US President Barack Obama warned China’s top diplomat on Thursday that both sides must not repeat their standoff at sea, while the US navy dispatched destroyers to escort future surveillance voyages.

Obama met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) following sharp exchanges between Beijing and Washington over the incident involving a US ship and Chinese vessels last Sunday, and also over human rights in Tibet.

The talks came as major powers jostled ahead of next month’s G20 economic crisis summit in London and with North Korea threatening to launch a satellite seen by ­Washington as a missile test in disguise.

Obama, making his first foray into Sino-US diplomacy, told Yang it was important to raise the level and frequency of military dialogue between the two sides to “avoid future incidents,” the White House said.

US National Security Advisor James Jones meanwhile raised the standoff between the US survey ship Impeccable and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.

The US government said Chinese boats moved directly in front of the Navy ship, forcing it into evasive action. China said the US ship was spying.

A Washington defense official said the US decided to bolster surveillance patrols in the area with destroyers.

“Right now they are going to escort these types of ships for the foreseeable future,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A day after Sunday’s incident, the US destroyer Chung-Hoon accompanied Impeccable — an unarmed ship designed to track submarines with sonar — in the same area, the official said.

Obama also raised the issue of Tibet, the cause of early wrangles in his administration’s relationship with Beijing.

“On human rights, the president noted that the promotion of human rights is an essential aspect of US global foreign policy,” the White House statement said. “The President expressed his hope there would be progress in the dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.”

At a lunch with a US think tank, however, Yang urged the US to “respect” Beijing’s position on Tibet.

“Tibet is an inalienable part of China’s territory and Tibetan affairs are exclusively China’s internal affairs,” Yang told a closed-door meeting at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I hope that people from various sectors in the United States will appreciate these facts and understand and respect the Chinese people’s position of upholding state sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The White House and State Department had earlier expressed concern about the human rights situation in Tibet, prompting strongly worded complaints from Beijing.