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US, Australia urge free movement in South China Sea
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) Sept 15, 2011

The United States and Australia called Thursday for unimpeded freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and urged restraint from Beijing and its neighbors in solving their territorial disputes.

In talks in San Francisco, the Australian and US foreign and defense ministers reiterated that they do not take positions on competing claims and called on all countries to follow international law in addressing disputes.

"The United States and Australia, along with the international community, have a national interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea," a joint statement said.

"We oppose the use of coercion or force to advance the claims of any party or interfere with legitimate economic activity," said the statement by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and their Australian counterparts Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith.

Clinton has spearheaded international calls for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where disputes between China and its neighbors -- particularly Vietnam and the Philippines -- have become increasingly heated.

Australia and the United States called in the statement for China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to follow through on a 2002 agreement on the South China Sea, "including exercising self-restraint."

Under the 2002 agreement, China and the Southeast Asian bloc agreed to work out a code of conduct in the sea. But there has been little follow-up, with diplomats believing that China prefers to deal with each country individually.

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