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Disputes Abound As Chinese, U.S. Defense Chiefs Meet In Hanoi

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, held talks today in Hanoi.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called for an international approach to resolve territorial disputes in the Pacific, despite China's opposition to any multilateral deal brokered by Washington.

Gates's remarks were aimed at China ahead of his talks later in the day in Hanoi with Chinese General Liang Guanglie on the sidelines of a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

China's claims to potentially resource-rich islands in the South China Sea have put it at odds with Vietnam, Japan, and other members of ASEAN. China wants to meet individually with each country that has a claim in those territorial disputes. But other ASEAN members are calling for a negotiated "code of conduct" for all nations.

Gates said Washington is not taking sides but said the disagreements could best be solved through "strong multilateral institutions" rather than a bilateral approach.

Gates' comments cast a shadow over his talks with Liang, one of three officials in Beijing considered as a counterpart to the U.S. secretary of defense. Their talks were the first senior-level military meeting between Washington and Beijing since China cut off such contacts eight months ago to protest a proposed $6.4 billion U.S. weapons deal for Taiwan.

No Breakthroughs

Gates tempered expectations by warning that the latest talks do not mean there has been a sudden breakthrough in the disputes between the United States and China. In fact, tensions between the United States and China have been increasing in recent days over economic and environmental issues.

Global economic cooperation appears to be in disarray and further clashes between Beijing and Washington appear likely over their currency exchange dispute after an international meeting in Washington that brought together finance ministers and central bankers from around the world. The International Monetary Fund meeting ended during the weekend without any resolution to the currency exchange dispute between China and the United States.

Washington accuses Beijing of keeping the value of its yuan currency artificially low in order to bolster Chinese exports. The United States also insists that the IMF should intensify its focus on exchange rates and the accumulation of dollar reserves in China. But China accuses the United States of destabilizing emerging economies by allowing loose monetary policy to flood emerging markets with dollars.

IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on October 9 urged cooperation on currency valuation to help ensure stability and growth on the global markets.

"What I want to explain is that the discussion which takes place not only between China and the U.S., but with other partners, is a very important one," he said. "I think that we are now arriving at the moment where people are discussing the right stuff. So I think what everybody understands is that there is no way for the global economy to be more stable, to achieve growth everywhere if it is not done in a cooperative way."

'Do Your Own Job'

Meanwhile, China also is rejecting U.S. criticism that it and other developing nations are blocking progress at climate change talks that ended during the weekend.

Speaking as weeklong talks ended in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, senior Chinese climate change negotiator Su Wei said the criticism is an attempt to divert attention from what he called a failure by the United States to make big cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"My suggestion is that first of all, you should do your own job, then you can criticize what others are doing," Su said. "If you yourself are not doing anything, it is not fair to criticize other people."

The U.S. envoy at those talks, Jonathan Pershing, said earlier that the United States expected more progress from China and other developing nations on controlling pollution. Pershing said the United Nations should be allowed to monitor and verify whether countries meet their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are disappointed that we have made very little progress on the key issue that confronts us: How to reflect our commitments and actions and agree on the provisions for reporting to each other on those commitments and actions," Pershing said.

Pershing concluded that the standoff could block progress at a major United Nations summit on climate change that is scheduled in Cancun, Mexico, starting on November 29.

written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports