Continued from page 1

Many of the disputed islands are only rock outcroppings, uninhabited or rarely visited. But nationalist fervor has inflamed public sentiment across the region, provoking violent protests in China.

The friction is partly driven by China’s increasingly assertive stance regarding its claims over resource-rich waters to the south and east. But the disputes also reflect pressures on relatively weak leaders anxious over public opinion, experts say.

Earlier during her Asian tour, Mrs. Clinton urged members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to present a united front to China in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea. She also discussed the issue with Chinese leaders during meetings in Beijing this week.

Associated Press writers Kaori Hitomi and Elaine Kurtenbach contributed to this report.