China's growing economic and military influence — an issue that dominated discussion at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation — looks set to continue causing tension at this weekend's East Asia summit in Bali.
The summit — the first to be attended by a U.S. president — is already being held against a backdrop of simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and as Washington tries to reassert its influence in Asia.
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The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that:
Maritime security is expected to be a key issue in Bali as the U.S. and its regional allies and partners try to push back against what they see as China's more assertive diplomacy and military posturing in the region, especially over territorial issues, according to diplomats and regional experts.
China, Reuters reported, "has the most extensive historic sovereignty claims in the potentially oil and gas rich South China Sea, including uninhabited atolls near the equatorial northern coast of Borneo.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are the other claimants to parts of the sea, and along with the United States and Japan, are pressuring Beijing to try and seek some way forward on the knotty issue of sovereignty, which has flared up again this year with often tense maritime stand-offs.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, attending the Bali summit, is expected to hear demands from some of China's neighbors to discuss competing claims to the South China Sea, VOA reported.
The Philippines has already repeated its call for a meeting to discuss the creation of a "zone of peace" in the area "by clearly defining disputed and undisputed areas."
However, Beijing — "keen to resist any attempts by the U.S. to get more deeply involved in the issue," according to the WSJ — wants to address with its neighbors one by one.
And Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said Tuesday that the South China Sea issue had nothing to do with the East Asia Summit, which follows a gathering of Southeast Asian leaders at the annual ASEAN meeting, VOA reported. Rather, it was a forum for discussing economic and trade development issues.
He also reportedly warned that efforts to involve outside countries, such as the United States, in the territorial dispute would "only complicate the issue and sabotage regional peace, stability and development."