- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that she hopes China will work diplomatically with its regional partners toward “finalizing a code of conduct” for resolving territorial disputes over the oil-rich South China Sea.

“Nations of the region should work … diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and certainly without the use of force,” said Mrs. Clinton, who is attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Cambodia.

Her remarks represent the latest U.S. attempt to counter what several of the region’s smaller nations perceive to be illegal and aggressive Chinese claims over exploration rights in the South China Sea.

“No nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric, and disagreements over resource exploitation,” Mrs. Clinton said Wednesday.

Analysts have suggested that joint U.S.-Philippine military drills, along with an expansion of U.S-Australian military relations last year, were driven partly by Washington’s desire to send a message to China that its growing military presence will not go undeterred.

Mrs. Clinton, however, told reporters Wednesday that “the United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea, and we do not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries.”

“But we do have a fundamental interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton stressed that the task of nailing down an international framework for resolving disputes over such activities should not be dominated by one nation, but managed diplomatically by all 10 members of ASEAN.

“It’s not up to the United States,” she said. “It’s not up to China. It’s up to ASEAN.”

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