China told the United States on Friday to respect Chinese “territorial integrity”, amid simmering tensions focused on the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made the comments to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a bilateral meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, according to a spokesman from China’s delegation.
“The Chinese side raised its own concerns, which is that it is important to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” spokesman Liu Weiming said.
“And to respect China’s major concerns in the issues of Tibet and some other sensitive issues. I sense that the US side understands the sensitivity of these issues and they agreed to further promote dialogue and mutual understanding.”
Liu said Yang and Clinton specifically discussed the South China Sea, which China claims as its own.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits and home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.
Tensions in the decades-long dispute flared in recent months amid accusations by the Philippines and Vietnam that China was being increasingly aggressive in staking its claim to the sea.
China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced on Wednesday in Bali a “breakthrough” in the dispute, endorsing a set of guidelines designed to reduce tensions in the waters.
In brief comments ahead of her meeting with Yang on Friday, Clinton praised China and ASEAN for working to defuse the tensions.
But, in a move likely to irk China, Clinton was set to make a speech on Saturday to her Asian counterparts in which she would emphasise that the United States had a “strategic stake” in the South China Sea.
A US official travelling with Clinton said she would make a “very detailed statement” at the ASEAN Regional Forum about the importance of the South China Sea to American and global commerce.
“We have a strategic stake in how issues there are managed,” the official said, citing comments Clinton was preparing to make in her speech to the forum.
China has long insisted the United States has no role to play in solving the South China Sea dispute with its neighbours.