U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday welcomed a draft agreement between China and ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, aimed at defusing tensions over disputed waters of the South China Sea. Clinton met her Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, on the sidelines of the ASEAN regional forum in Bali.
The draft agreement committing the rival claimants to a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute is vaguely worded. But U.S. officials are expressing relief over the accord, which they say should ease tensions between China and several ASEAN member states including U.S. defense treaty ally, the Philippines, informs Voice of America.
"We welcome this; it's an important first step," Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, told reporters Friday. "It has lowered tensions. It has improved the atmosphere. But clearly it is just that, a first step, and we're going to need to see some follow up actions between China and ASEAN."
Last year, Clinton raised Beijing's ire by saying maritime security in the South China Sea was a U.S. national security interest. She made the matter a central point of her participation in the East Asia Summit hosted by Vietnam, according to CBS News.
Earlier this month, the Philippines ruled out any joint exploration with other claimant countries in the Reed Bank.
"The Reed Bank is not part of the Spratlys," Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters. "What is ours is ours."
The decision follows alleged threatening behavior by Chinese naval vessels toward several Philippines resource research ships around the Reed Bank in March.
Vietnam recently said it will do everything in it power to protect its coastal waters after China allegedly interfered with two of Hanoi's seismic survey vessels 80 miles off its south-central coast -- well within its territorial waters and around 370 miles south of China's Hainan Island.
China rejected Hanoi's claim that its ships had cut the cables. Beijing countered saying the Vietnamese ships owned by the state oil and gas company PetroVietnam were operating in Chinese waters, says UPI.com.