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Obama meets Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao

US President Barack Obama held previously unscheduled talks today with China's Premier Wen Jiabao, after a week of sharp exchanges between the two nations.

world Updated: Nov 19, 2011 10:33 IST

US President Barack Obama held previously unscheduled talks on Saturday with China's Premier Wen Jiabao, after a week of sharp exchanges between the two nations.

Obama and Wen met on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, following public spats over currency, trade and a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

A White House official said there would be no public statements from the talks, which took place at Bali's Grand Hyatt hotel.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and National security advisor Tom Donilon joined Obama for the talks, an AFP photographer present at the start of the meeting saw.

The high-level encounter came after Obama escalated US rhetoric towards China, saying that as the world's second-biggest economy Beijing needs to start playing by international "rules of the road" in finance and trade.

It was likely to address the concerns that have arisen as Washington rolls out a campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power and provide a counterbalance to China's growing diplomatic, economic and military might.

Obama irked Beijing this week by announcing a deployment of 2,500 US Marines to Australia, which he billed as proof of America's long-term commitment to defending its interests and allies in the region.

The president's strong support for expanding negotiations on a pan-Pacific trade deal when he hosted the APEC summit in his native Hawaii last week also raised concerns in Beijing, as China is not included.

And on Friday, Obama hailed the East Asia Summit as the top forum for settling the region's maritime territorial disputes with China, contradicting Beijing's desire to see such rows negotiated bilaterally.

Beijing sees the initiatives as intruding into its own sphere of influence, and Wen warned again on Friday against interference by "external forces" in the wrangle.

China claims all of the South China Sea, as does Taiwan, while four Southeast Asian countries declare ownership of parts of it, with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Chinese forces of increasing aggression there.

The region is a conduit for more than one-third of the world's seaborne trade and half its traffic in oil and gas, and major petroleum deposits are believed to lie below the seabed.

Washington says the security of crucial maritime trade routes deserves serious dialogue, even if Saturday's summit -- the first to be attended by a US president -- is not a tribunal for deciding on disputes.

But China, the biggest trading partner of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc, prefers to negotiate with its weaker regional neighbours individually rather than collectively.

China is also likely to be concerned by a dramatic US foray into Myanmar, its resource-rich ally and southern neighbour.

Obama said on Friday he would send Hillary Clinton to Myanmar in December, the first visit there by a US secretary of state for 50 years, to encourage signs of democratic reform from the new nominally civilian regime.

After "years of darkness, we have seen flickers of progress in the last several weeks" in Myanmar, Obama said of the country, which for decades was ruled by a military junta.

Clinton, who will travel to Myanmar on December 1-2, will "explore whether the United States can empower a positive transition in Burma", Obama said, using the country's former name.

First Published: Nov 19, 2011 07:58 IST