Obama urges restraint over Asian territorial disputes


Chinese paramilitary guards watch as China National Offshore Oil Corp, May 21, 2012.



President Obama urged restraint over territorial disputes between China, Japan, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia on Tuesday.

"President Obama's message is there needs to be a reduction of the tensions," said Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security adviser, to reporters in Phnom Penh.

Rhodes added, "The US believes that any solution has to be consistent with international law, has to preserve the free flow of commerce that is important not just to the countries in this region but to the world."

Potentially the most combustible dispute, between Japan and China, is over a cluster of islands in the South China Sea - known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Rhodes said as much, according to Reuters: "There is no reason to risk any potential escalation, particularly when you have two of the world's largest economies - China and Japan - associated with some of those disputes."

When asked why China and Japan have maneuvered so relentlessly for the territory, Andrew Billo, senior program officer with the Asia Society who specializes in Southeast Asia, told GlboalPost in July that it was all about energy.

"Primarily the energy resources" he said, "and to a lesser extent the fisheries, and then to an even lesser extent tourism potential. And the other issue is of course the freedom of navigation issues. But I see it primarily as an energy issue."

Rhodes indicated that, like all of the ASEAN nations, the US also has an economic interest in the area.

"The US is not a claimant in the South China Sea," he said. "But we have significant interest there given its role in the global economy."

But while Rhodes was willing to speak on the matter, not all officials were as obliging. 

Senior Chinese diplomat Fu Ying said China did not want to speak on the matter publically or multilaterally.

 "We do not want to bring the disputes to an occasion like this and we do not want to give over-emphasis to the territorial disputes and differences," she said, according to the Associated Press.

Japan's Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, was reported by the Guardian as saying to Obama, "With the increasing severity of the security environment in East Asia, the importance of the Japan-US alliance is increasing."