SANYA, China – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday made a rare visit by an American official to a Chinese island once a flash point in relations between the powers and pressed Beijing to settle territorial disputes with its smaller, wary neighbors.

The Obama administration’s top diplomat also urged Chinese officials to use their influence with North Korea to keep the communist country from taking any provocative actions that might disrupt a summit of world leaders set for South Korea next month.

Clinton’s main goal, though, was to seek Chinese help in lowering tensions across East Asia. She proposed hosting a three-way meeting between the United States, China and Japan to ease the latest regional flare-up: competing claims by China and Japan over East China Sea islands, a dispute that has soured ties between Beijing and Tokyo.

She conveyed the messages in a private meeting with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo on Hainan Island just hours after similar talks in Vietnam with Chinese Foreign Minster Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of a summit of East Asian leaders.

“It is in all of our interests for China and Japan to have stable and peaceful relations,” Clinton told reporters in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital. The United States, she said, is “more than willing” to host trilateral talks “where we would discuss a range of issues.”

“We made very clear that we want the temperature to go down on this issue,” said a senior U.S. official who sat in on Clinton’s meetings with Yang and Dai. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private diplomatic exchanges.


Japanese officials have said they would welcome a U.S. role if a trilateral meeting was well prepared, but neither Yang nor Dai indicated if China would accept U.S. mediation, the official said.

Publicly, China responded coolly to the offer. And it made clear its unhappiness with comments Clinton made earlier last week and again Saturday in which she said the islands are covered by a U.S.-Japan mutual defense pact, even though Washington takes no position on their ultimate sovereignty.

A statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website said Yang told Clinton that the United States should act with discretion and make no “wrong remarks” on the sensitive issue of the islands. He also repeated Beijing’s claim to the islands and insisted the United States should respect China’s stance.

China is also sparring with its neighbors over control of the strategic and potentially oil-rich Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, which are claimed by Vietnam and other nations as well as Beijing. The islands straddle busy sea lanes that are a crucial conduit for oil and other resources fueling China’s fast-expanding economy.

In Hanoi, Clinton told the East Asian leaders that a peaceful resolution of all the maritime disputes is a U.S. national security interest. She called on China to cooperate with the regional bloc that represents the other claimants; China wants to deal with the nations individually.

Clinton came to Hainan, a tropical island east of Vietnam in the South China Sea, at the invitation of Dai, who outranks Yang in Beijing’s government hierarchy. The island is rich with symbolism of China’s growing military might and is home to major Chinese military installations, including naval bases and a massive surveillance facility.

It was on Hainan that a U.S. Navy spy plane was forced to land in April 2001 after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet. China held the 24 U.S. crew members for 11 days until the Bush administration apologized for the collision that killed a Chinese pilot. No U.S. secretary of state had visited the island before.

After seeing Dai, Clinton flew to Cambodia for two days of her two-week tour that will take her to Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia.


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