Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao held bilateral talks in Indonesia Saturday, amid growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing in Asia-Pacific dominates the agenda of the East Asia Summit.
The meeting lasted about an hour in a hotel in Nusa Dua, a resort of the Indonesian island Bali which hosts the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was present.
The meeting focused on the economy, Barack Obama raising the thorny issue of the yuan, that the United States considers undervalued, and other trade disputes, said Tom Donilon, the American Council for National Security.
Washington and Beijing are at loggerheads about the diplomatic, economic and military re-engagement of the United States in the Asia-Pacific, which American considered as respond to a “hegemonic expansion” of China in this region.
“China will never seek hegemony,” said Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday, adding that China “opposes any hegemonic behavior.”
These days, the tensions have focused on territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors in the South China Sea for the oil and gas.
Despite Chinese warnings, Obama has put his foot in Saturday morning. “The United States defend the freedom of navigation, the free trade movement and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” but said that Washington did not want to take sides.
Facing the Chinese giant, the Philippines has called on other “small” countries (Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei) to stand together, with support from Washington that advocates “multilateralism”.
Barack Obama had expressed his intention to make the East Asia Summit “the privileged place where we can work together on a wide range of issues such as maritime security and nuclear non-proliferation”.
Wen Jiabao denounced an “interference” and announced he would refuse to talk together in Bali.
These conflicts illustrate the competition in which engage the two capitals for leadership in the Asia-Pacific, which is distinguished by its great dynamism when mature economies sink into crisis.
China is investing huge sums, including Australia, a close ally of Washington, to exploit its mineral resources.
After launching an ambitious Asia-Pacific free trade area which China is not associated at this time, Barack Obama announced this week the deployment of 2,500 troops in the north-west Australia, the gateway to Asia South East.
Sino-US antagonisms place the states in the region in a difficult position.
The East Asia Summit, which will be closed this Saturday along with that of ASEAN, was also an opportunity for Wen Jiabao to attend a trilateral meeting with South Korea and Japan which was mentioned the North Korean nuclear issue.
The East Asia Summit brings together ten countries of Southeast Asia and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and, for the first time this year, the United States and Russia.
These two peaks are not intended to result in concrete decisions but rather are intended to provide a forum for discussions.