BEIJING, Sept 5 (Reuters) - China’s top state newspaper warned the visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday not to seek advantage from tensions in the South China Sea, ahead of talks likely to focus territorial disputes and other sources of discord.
Beijing and Washington have both stressed hopes for steady ties, especially as they confront domestic political hurdles. But the tensions in the South China Sea have emerged as a persistent irritant, reflecting suspicions in Beijing that the Obama administration is seeking to rein in Chinese influence.
The international edition of state mouthpiece the People’s Daily aired those concerns ahead of Clinton’s meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders, and suggested the United States is seeking to gain leverage from China’s tensions with Japan and Southeast Asian countries.
“The United States’ recent conduct concerning the Diaoyu islands and South China Sea issues cannot but create the suspicion that it is attempting to sow discord in order to fish for advantage,” said a front-page commentary in the paper, which broadly reflects official thinking.
“In the long term, this kind of adjustment in the United States’ Asia-Pacific strategy will not bring gains, and could even backfire,” it said.
The uninhabited Diaoyu islands -- called Senkaku in Japan -- have been a source of friction between Beijing and Tokyo, which have rival territorial claims to the islets and surrounding fishing areas and potentially rich gas deposits.
On Wednesday, Japanese media reported the Japanese government planned to buy the islets from their private Japanese owners, a move likely to fuel tensions between Asia’s two largest economies.
China’s claims over much the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel islands, have put it at loggerheads with Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
China’s ruling Communist Party is preoccupied with a once-in-a-decade leadership over coming months, while President Barack Obama is focused on a re-election fight.
In Jakarta on Monday, Clinton urged China and Southeast Asian nations to move quickly on a code of conduct for the South China Sea and stressed that disputes should be resolved “without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and certainly without the use of force”..
China has been irked by the U.S.-backed proposals for a multilateral approach to managing and eventually resolving the South China Sea disputes, preferring to negotiate separately with each of the far less powerful Asian claimants.
On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei suggested that Washington had not been a helpful force in the maritime disputes, indicating that Clinton may face some resistance in her talks with President Hu, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, and other senior officials.
But both sides have also stressed their hopes for fruitful talks. The Obama administration wants greater Chinese cooperation on other international problems, including reining in the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programmes, and the finding a solution to the Syria crisis.
In brief public remarks after her arrival on Tuesday night, Clinton called the U.S.-China relationship crucial to the Obama administration’s “pivot” to more engagement with the Asia-Pacific.