US keen to raise S. China Sea issue at G-7 talks in Hiroshima

WASHINGTON/HIROSHIMA • The United States has said it is keen to raise the issue of China's territorial ambitions in the South China Sea at a Group of Seven foreign ministers' meeting in Hiroshima, a move that would likely draw an angry response from Beijing.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington last Friday that the US should discuss security issues any time it meets with key partners in Asia. "What we want to see happen in the South China Sea is important. It's important to the region, it's important to the stability of the region, so I would suggest that those topics should be on the table."

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last Saturday said the G-7 meeting that began yesterday should not "hype" the South China Sea issue. He made the comments at a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Beijing, according to a statement on the ministry's website last Saturday.

While host nation Japan decides on the agenda for the two-day meeting, it is likely to agree to any request from the US to discuss the South China Sea, as it has in recent months stepped up its criticism of China's activities in the water - a key maritime artery for trade and energy shipments.

While none of the six states that have overlapping claims in the resource-rich sea is present in Hiroshima, any implied criticism would be seen in Beijing as a political move to put pressure on China.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and US Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to speak after the meeting closes this afternoon.

China has shown increasing assertiveness in its claims, constructing artificial islands and placing military facilities on them. The US has challenged its "excessive" claims, conducting freedom of navigation operations close to these islands.

Mr Kerry, who arrived in Hiroshima yesterday morning, became the first US Secretary of State to visit the atomic-bombed city. His landmark trip is seen as possibly paving the way for President Barack Obama to become the first serving US president to visit the city next month, when he comes to Japan for the G-7 summit, which will take place in another part of Japan.

The Hiroshima meeting, part of the run-up to the summit, also includes top diplomats from nuclear- armed Britain and France, and Canada, Germany, Italy, host Japan and the European Union. The ministers discussed issues including the Middle East, the refugee crisis, the conflict in Ukraine and global terrorism.

Ministers have so far said little about the content of the meetings, though Mr Kerry tweeted that they had a "big foreign policy agenda to cover" - mentioning topics such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group as well as "Asia regional issues and global threats".

But it is the location of the talks - one of two cities where the US dropped an atomic bomb in 1945, ending World War II - that has captured the imagination of the Japanese public. Many hope it will promote greater understanding of Japan's staunch anti-nuclear stance as the only country to suffer an atomic attack.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'US keen to raise S. China Sea issue at G-7 talks in Hiroshima'. Print Edition | Subscribe