China's Xi sidesteps SE Asia pressure over South China Sea disputes

Reuters

By Kanupriya Kapoor

JAKARTA, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinpingshowed no sign of bending to Southeast Asian pressure to resolveincreasingly irascible territorial disputes over the South ChinaSea on Thursday, simply repeating calls for dialogue.

Xi, in the first address by a foreign leader to IndonesianMPs, made no reference to regional demands, echoed inWashington, that Beijing deal with the rival claims throughmultilateral talks rather than with individual negotiations.

The issue is certain to overshadow two regional summits nextweek that Xi will attend. But while Xi is touring SoutheastAsia, including signing off on multibillion dollar deals withIndonesia, U.S. President Barack Obama has had to cancel tripsto the Philippines and Malaysia because of the U.S. governmentshutdown.

The U.S. crisis has also put into doubt Obama's attendanceat the two regional summits at a time when Washington has beenpromoting its strategy of putting more emhpasis on its ties withAsia.

"As for the disagreements and disputes between China andcertain Southeast Asian nations on territorial sovereignty andmaritime rights, both sides must always uphold the use ofpeaceful methods ...to maintain the broad picture of bilateralrelations and regional stability," he told MPs on the second andlast day of his visit to Southeast Asia's largest country.

"China's development is a force for peace and friendship inthe world, bringing development opportunities for Asia and theworld and not threats."

Last month, the Philippines accused China of violating aninformal code of conduct in the South China Sea, home to some ofthe world's most vital trade routes, by planning new structureson a disputed shoals.

The disputes have centred on concerns that China's use ofits growing naval might to back claims to much of the oil- andgas-rich sea could spark a military clash.

Four of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast AsianNations (ASEAN), including Vietnam and the Philippines but notIndonesia, have overlapping claims with China. Indonesia hasoffered to mediate but has in the past criticised China for notshowing more restraint over the disputes.

Next Tuesday sees the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation(APEC) summit in the Indonesian resort island of Bali. Afterthat, Xi and several other leaders will head to Brunei for theEast Asia summit.

"What we wanted to hear from President Xi Jinping waswhether China has the goodwill to resolve the South China Seaissue ... But he didn't address the issue at all, so I'mdisappointed," legislator Tantowi Yahya told Reuters.

Xi has used his visit try to lift relations in the region,saying China hoped trade with ASEAN would reach $1 trillion by2020. He flies later in the day to Malaysia.

China is already Indonesia's biggest trading partner afterJapan. The two were expected to finalise a raft of deals, mainlyin the mining sector, worth more than $30 billion during Xi'svisit.

Only about a third of the members of the combined housesattended the speech, the first such address by a foreign leader.

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