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“We thought it was a very comprehensive and clear statement,” Mr. Ventrell said.

Mrs. Clinton last month pushed for China and other nations to come together at the ASEAN conference and agree upon a “code of conduct” for diplomatically resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But talks sputtered in the face of Chinese desires to resolve disputes unilaterally, on a case-by-case basis with its neighbors.

Claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea have been a source of tension for decades but began bubbling into the international limelight last year when Vietnam and the Philippines asserted their oil and gas exploration activities were being disrupted by Chinese boats.

U.S. officials have since argued that China is taking a coercive economic posture towards its smaller and financially weaker neighbors in an attempt to gain total control of the region.

Analysts have suggested joint U.S.-Philippine military drills, along with an expansion of U.S.-Australian military relations last year, were driven in part by Washington’s desire to send a message to China about its growing military presence in the region.