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Clinton urges ASEAN unity on South China Sea

JAKARTA -- Southeast Asian states must present a united front to the Chinese in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea to “literally calm the waters,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.

And she urged all involved to make “meaningful progress” on a process for ending conflicts “without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force” by November.

In Indonesia's capital before heading to China, Clinton offered strong U.S. support for a regionally endorsed six-point plan to ease rising tensions by implementing a code of conduct for all claimants to disputed islands. Jakarta is the headquarters of the Association of South East Asian Nations, and Clinton pressed the group to insist that China agree to a formal multilateral mechanism to reduce short-term risks of conflict and ultimately come to final settlements over sovereignty.

The stance puts the U.S. squarely at odds with China, which has become increasingly assertive in pressing its territorial claims with its smaller neighbors and wants the disputes to be resolved individually with each country, giving it greater leverage than dealing with a bloc.

Clinton made the case in Tuesday meetings with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan, a day after she delivered the same message to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during a meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on Monday, Sept. 4. Clinton left for Beijing on Monday after talks in emerging U.S. ally Indonesia where she voiced hope for progress in managing soaring tensions in the South China Sea. (AFP)

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