The official spoke as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived
in Sydney for a meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and
Australian officials to discuss increased defense and cyber security
A U.S. proposal for a freeze on provocative acts in the South China
Sea got a cool response from China and some Southeast Asian nations
at a regional meeting at the weekend, an apparent setback to U.S.
efforts to thwart China's assertive moves.
"The immediate follow-up ... is to assess the meeting scheduled in a
few weeks between ASEAN and China at the working group and the
senior official level to discuss what equates to the freeze," the
U.S. official told reporters.
"We will also be monitoring the actual situation around the rocks,
reefs, and shoals in the South China Sea."
China's Xinhua state news agency warned on Monday that "by stoking
the flames, Washington is further emboldening countries like the
Philippines and Vietnam to take a hardline stance against China,
raising suspicion over the real intention of the United States and
make an amicable solution more difficult to reach."
"It is a painful reality that Uncle Sam has left too many places in
chaos after it stepped in, as what people are witnessing now in
Iraq, Syria and Libya," Xinhua added in a commentary. "The South
China Sea should not be the next one."
Tension spiked in May when China parked a giant oil rig in waters
claimed by Vietnam. The U.S. and Philippine proposals aimed to
prevent such action, as well as building and land reclamation work
on disputed islands being carried out by China and other claimants.
The rancor over the disputed sea has split ASEAN, with several
states including some of the claimant nations reluctant to
jeopardize rising trade and investment ties with China.
China has been able to use its influence to block regional action on
the maritime issue before, most notably in 2012 when an ASEAN
meeting chaired by Chinese ally Cambodia broke down in acrimony.
"I think it's pretty clear, China's actions speak for themselves,"
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at a briefing in
Sydney, adding the U.S. position remained that such disputes should
be resolved through international law.
Australia was one of the countries to support the U.S. proposal at
the weekend ASEAN meeting in Myanmar.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop traveled to Australia with
Kerry and they planned to explore follow up actions to the Myanmar
talks including an upcoming meeting between ASEAN members and China,
the official said.
[to top of second column]
Bishop is hosting the annual Australia-United States Ministerial
Consultations (AUSMIN) in Sydney, where defense and security
cooperation is expected to be high on the agenda along with Iraq and
Talks will include discussions on cooperation in
ballistic missile defense, cyber security and maritime security,
Hagel told reporters at a briefing with Australian Defence Minister
David Johnston ahead of the formal talks.
The ministers will sign an agreement reached between U.S. President
Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the
deployment of U.S. marines to Australia for joint exercises and
training in areas such as disaster relief.
"It will expand our regional cooperation here in Asia-Pacific from
engagement with ASEAN to the trilateral cooperation that we have
been working on with Japan," Hagel said, adding that the U.S. was
firmly committed to its rebalance to the region.
"We have an interest here, we will continue to have an interest
here, we are a Pacific power."
Some 1,150 Marines are stationed in Darwin in Australia's tropical
north under a 2011 agreement that launched President Barack Obama's
strategic "pivot" to the fast-growing Asia region. The Marine
contingent, primed to respond to regional conflicts and humanitarian
crises, is expected to swell to 2,500 by 2017.
Obama's pivot has irked China, which sees it as an attempt to block
its growing diplomatic, military and political influence across the
region, and has faced criticism from some allies doubtful about U.S.
commitment to the strategy.
Johnston said the further deployment of U.S. troops in Australia
would be one of the issues on the agenda at Tuesday's talks, amid
reports that the U.S. plans to station more fighter jets and bombers
in Australia's north.
(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney and Ben Blanchard in
Beijing; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Robert Birsel)
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