Tensions flare over South China Sea at Asean summit
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US President Barack Obama will meet Southeast Asian leaders on Monday evening before sitting down with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday. He is widely expected to raise the issue of South China Sea tensions.
China has repeatedly sought to reject involvement by nations outside Southeast Asia at a sensitive time, as Washington seeks an expanded military and diplomatic presence in the region under a so-called pivot from conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan announced last year.
China's assertion of sovereignty over the stretch of water off its south coast and to the east of mainland Southeast Asia has set it directly against US allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts, making it Asia's biggest potential military trouble spot.
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The Philippines, Australia and other parts of the region have seen a resurgence of US warships, planes and personnel since Obama began shifting foreign, economic and security policy towards Asia late last year.
Cambodia has used its powers as ASEAN chair this year to limit discussion on the South China Sea, in line with Beijing's view the disputes should be discussed on a bilateral basis.
Kao of the Cambodian foreign ministry said on Sunday the ASEAN bloc had agreed to confine talks on a set of rules for operating in the South China Sea to its meetings with China.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, however, told reporters that Vietnam shared the Philippines' objections to that Cambodian statement. Vietnam officials were not immediately available to confirm that.
The tensions illustrate the difficulty of forging a Southeast Asian consensus over how to deal with an increasingly assertive China. Southeast Asia had hoped avoid a repeat of an embarrassing breakdown of talks in July over competing claims in the mineral-rich waters, its biggest security challenge.
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