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US, China in verbal duel over maritime claims

world Updated: Nov 18, 2011 23:45 IST

Reuters
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Tensions between the United States and China spilled over into meetings of Asia-Pacific leaders on Friday as the two countries jostled over how to handle competing claims to the South China Sea.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao demanded that "outside forces" had no excuse to get involved in the complex maritime dispute a veiled warning to the United States and other countries to keep out of the sensitive issue.

"It ought to be resolved through friendly consultations and discussions by countries directly involved. Outside forces should not under any pretext get involved " Wen told a meeting with Southeast Asian leaders several of whose countries claim sovereignty to parts of the South China Sea.

The comments were carried on the Chinese Foreign Ministry s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

The remark is the latest barb between the two countries in recent weeks when President Barack Obama has sought to reassert U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region to counter the growing influence of China its biggest economic rival.

Obama said in Australia on Thursday on his last stop before jetting to the Asia meetings in neighbouring Indonesia that the US military would expand its Asia-Pacific role despite budget cuts declaring America was "here to stay" as a Pacific power.

Days earlier as host of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-Operation forum in Hawaii Obama had voiced growing frustration at China s trade practices and he pushed for a new Asia-Pacific trade deal with some of Beijing s neighbours.

The moves are seen as an attempt to reassert US leadership to counter China s growing influence around the Pacific Rim and reassure allies such as South Korea and Japan that it would remain a strong counterweight.

The US wants the dispute over the South China Sea discussed at meetings of the ASEAN and eight regional powers including the US, China, Russia and Japan.