As Washington gears up diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia, it is equally important for the United States to maintain a sound relationship with China for the prosperity and peace of the Asia-Pacific region, a senior US official said on Wednesday.
The remarks, made by US Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific Kurt Campbell, came a week before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton departs for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum and Post-Ministerial Conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Because of concerns among ASEAN members that the region may become an area of "dangerous strategic competition" between the US and China, Campbell said "one of the most important things for us at the forum is to make it clear, particularly to colleagues in ASEAN, that we are committed to a strong, stable and durable relationship with China".
"It is our strong determination to make it clear that we want to work with China," he said during a keynote speech at the second annual conference on maritime security in the South China Sea.
At the upcoming meeting in Cambodia, Clinton and her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi will roll out plans to work together on humanitarian disaster relief and wildlife protection, Campbell said.
On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that Beijing and Washington have made meaningful explorations in conducting trilateral cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and achieved positive results.
"Beijing hopes to steadily boost both countries' cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region on the principle of mutual respect, win-win and step-by-step, and jointly promote prosperity and stability with countries in the region," Hong said.
Yuan Peng, an expert of American studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Beijing and Washington have established mechanisms, including the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to brief each other on regional issues, and "Washington also hopes to avoid a confrontation with China on the South China Sea issue in a presidential election year".
But the US has recently conducted a series of military drills in the Asia-Pacific region, and Yuan warned that the factors that encourage countries in the region to use the US to contain China "have not been eliminated".
Beijing and Washington have faced challenges on the regional issues recently due to China's growing influence and the US' re-engagement diplomatic policy in Asia.
In July 2010, Clinton waded into the South China Sea territorial disputes by telling a regional security forum in Vietnam that a peaceful resolution of the disputes over the Nansha and the Xisha islands was an American national interest. Washington seeks to balance China-Southeast Asia relations through coordination and cooperation with both sides, said Fan Jishe, a US studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Maintaining regional stability and proper ties with the two sides is in the best interest of the US."
On the recent development of the issue between China and the Philippines and Vietnam, Campbell said the US has insisted on not taking a position on the territorial dispute and supports the current diplomatic efforts from the related parties.
Bonnie Glaser, an Asia-Pacific security expert at Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the US does not view the relations in the region in zero-sum terms, and it is not seeking to force ASEAN members to choose between the world's two largest economies.
"Although the US and other media often pin blame on China, I think other claimants of South China Sea also sometimes behave in provocative or confrontational ways that has generated concern from the US government," she said at the annual conference.