NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - The United States has been direct with China about its plans to be more active in the Asia-Pacific region as well as its interests in the South China Sea, a top White House official said on Saturday.
National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao talked mainly about economic issues when they met on the sidelines of an Asian leaders’ summit on the Indonesian island of Bali on Saturday.
Donilon said Wen had requested more time to speak with Obama after the two leaders sat next to each other during an official dinner on Friday.
“They had an informal meeting this morning and the principal focus of the meeting was on economics,” he told reporters on Saturday, the last day of Obama’s nine-day Asia-Pacific tour.
Obama and Wen discussed “specific issues around business practices” as well as U.S. concerns about controls on China’s yuan currency and its desire to see Beijing adhere more closely to international norms and rules, the U.S. official said.
The two leaders also touched on the sensitive issue of the South China Sea. Donilon said the United States was not trying to play judge in territorial disputes over those waters but wanted to see the shipping lane remain open.
“We don’t have a claim, we don’t take sides in the claims, but we do as a global maritime power have an interest in seeing these principles applied broadly,” he said.
Over the course of his trip to Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia, Obama has ruffled Chinese feathers with tough language on trade and plans to increase the U.S. military presence in Australia so it can respond faster to maritime disputes and other emergencies in the region.
On Saturday, Donilon sought to play down tensions in the U.S.-China relationship, which he said was on the whole was “productive and constructive.”
He said the United States had been “quite direct with the Chinese about our strategy” and that Beijing understood Washington was serious about sustaining a more active presence in the region to help ensure its stability and peace.
“Our partners and allies look to us for that reassurance. They want to know that the United States is going to play the role it has played with respect to security and reassurance and balancing and stability here,” Donilon said.
Donilon also stressed that Washington is continuing to engage directly with China on many economic and other themes.
“We have a very complicated and quite substantial relationship with China across the board,” he said.
“We are ... in an important conversation with them about economics which we think is important for the region and important for the United States.”
Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Paul Tait