Maritime security in the South China Sea will be discussed at a regional summit on Bali this week, the White House said on Tuesday, defying China’s desire to keep this sensitive topic off the agenda.
“We believe that the issue of maritime security is an appropriate issue to discuss at the East Asia summit,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters travelling with President Barack Obama to Asia.
“In the context of a discussion about maritime security, the South China Sea will clearly be a concern,” Rhodes said.
China claims the entire maritime region, a vital commercial shipping route rich in oil, minerals and fishery resources, pitting it against coastal states Vietnam and the Philippines and escalating fears of violent confrontation.
Beijing wants to address these territorial disputes on a bilateral basis.
But Washington wants discussion of the South China Sea, a shipping lane for more than $5 trillion in annual trade that the United States wants to keep open, during the summit on the Indonesian resort island.
“The East Asia summit is not a forum to resolve specific territorial questions, but rather it is a forum to address the principles with which we approach these issues,” Rhodes said.
“What we will be focussed upon are the principles that we feel are essential to the continued stability and free flow of commerce in the South China Sea,” he said.