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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

U.S., Asian Allies Take Firmer Stance on China

September 26, 2010

Asean Seeks Stronger Positions on Territorial
Disputes Amid Concern Over Beijing's Growth and Rising Military Power
By Jeremy Page, Patrick Barta and Jay Solomon
The Wall Street Journal, page A17
September 23, 2010

The U.S. and its Asian allies are starting to
push back against China's growing assertiveness
in the region, strengthening security ties and
taking stronger positions in territorial disputes
in the East and South China seas.

The newest evidence of the resistance is set to
come on Friday when President Barack Obama is to
discuss the South China Sea almost all of which
is claimed by China -- during a lunch in New York
with leaders of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations, or Asean. The meeting will take
place on the sidelines of the U.N. General
Assembly and will follow Mr. Obama's meeting
Thursday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Ahead of the meeting, Singapore Prime Minister
Lee Hsien Loong told The Wall Street Journal on
Tuesday he plans to tell Mr. Obama that the U.S.
needs to maintain an activist presence in Asia to
show it is "here to stay" as a power in the Pacific.

"America plays a role in Asia that China cannot
replace," he said, which includes "maintaining peace in the region."

Japan -- a main U.S. ally in the region -- is
leading the way in confronting China, taking an
unusually firm line in a dispute over a collision
between a Chinese fishing trawler and two
Japanese coast guard ships near disputed islands
in the East China Sea two weeks ago and Japan's
continued detention of the trawler's captain.

Japanese officials say their response is not more
forceful than in the past, but rather, that
Chinese behavior has turned more aggressive.

Nearly all the Southeast Asian countries have
some level of concern over China's growth and
military power. Singapore, because of its role as
a more advanced economy and more important
financial center, and possibly thanks to its
longstanding strong relations with the U.S., may
feel more comfortable voicing a desire for more
U.S. engagement than its Southeast Asian
neighbors. However, several of these are also
quietly pushing back against China, encouraging
the U.S. to assert its own national interests,
especially in the South China Sea, parts of which
are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Tensions between China and Vietnam have increased
since last fall, when Hanoi accused Chinese
military personnel of beating and robbing
Vietnamese fishermen seeking shelter from a typhoon in the South China Sea.

Vietnam, which is leading ASEAN this year, held
its first defense talks with the U.S. in August,
15 years after the two countries normalized relations.

Malaysia has also increasingly sought to align
itself with the U.S. as a counterweight to China.

The latest Japan-China confrontation has quickly
become the nastiest between the two countries in
years. Mr. Wen, the Chinese premier, on Tuesday
reiterated Beijing's threat to take further
action if Tokyo doesn't release the captain, the
state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku
called Wednesday for high-level bilateral talks
between Japan and China to ease tensions.

South Korea, which has burgeoning commercial ties
with China, has been alienated by Beijing's
refusal to condemn the sinking of a South Korean
warship in March, which an investigation blamed on North Korea.

One explanation for the backlash by analysts is
that China's diplomatic tone has become more
arrogant as it emerges stronger from the global
crisis. Others say this reflects how the People's
Liberation Army is starting to call the shots on
matters of key national interest, including the South China Sea.

Diplomats -- already struggling to cope with
multiplying international engagements -- are now
also under pressure to appease nationalism
inflamed by populist newspapers and academics.

Mr. Obama and ASEAN leaders are expected to issue
a statement Friday reaffirming the importance of
freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,
according to the Associated Press. It said the
statement would oppose the "use or threat of
force by any claimant attempting to enforce
disputed claims in the South China Sea."

The wording is significant because it is seen as
building on a statement by Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton at a July regional meeting in
Hanoi. That U.S. position was a response to
Chinese officials' assertion, in a meeting with
U.S. counterparts in March, that Beijing viewed
the South China Sea as one of its "core national
interests"—on a par with Tibet and Taiwan.

Several Southeast Asian nations are understood to
have encouraged Mrs. Clinton to make the
statement, which her Chinese counterpart, Foreign
Minister Yang Jiechi, described as an "attack" on China.

The White House declined to comment on the discussions over the communiqué.

China pre-empted Friday's meeting by voicing its
opposition to any U.S. proposals on the South
China Sea. "We firmly oppose any country having
nothing to do with the South China Sea issue
getting involved in the dispute," Jiang Yu, a
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

At a meeting with U.S. business leaders in New
York Wednesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao played
down differences with the U.S. on military matters.

* James Hookway, Yuka Hayashi and Andrew Browne contributed to this article.
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