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Clinton, Facing Tough Sell in China, Scores One for U.S. Diplomacy

As we noted yesterday, one of the major aims of Secretary Clinton’s Asia-Pacific tour is to promote multilateral negotiations as a palliative for the dangerous disputes in the energy-rich South China sea. Now in China, Clinton, is making the same pitch that she made in Indonesia. This will be a harder sell; Chinese state media recently referred to the U.S. as a “sneaky troublemaker” for its involvement in the China Sea disputes.

Thus far, however, things seem to be going well. In what appears to be a minor victory for American policy, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said that China would “on the basis of consensus work towards the eventual adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea,” and that “freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea is assured.”

But Chinese diplomacy is often opaque and hard to read, and Chinese diplomats are fond of mixed messages. In addition to his more conciliatory statements, Yang firmly reiterated China’s sovereignty to the islands. Bloomberg reports:

”China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters,” Mr. Yang said. “There is plentiful historical and jurisprudential evidence for that.”

Clearly, any change here will be incremental, and it is still too early to grade this China mission as a success or a failure. But as difficult as the American mission in Asia may be,  it’s the best chance for a lasting peace in the region.

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