US seeks to resolve South China Sea row, Obama tells Xi

THE HAGUE - President Barack Obama has told China's President Xi Jinping in a meeting here that he wants the United States, China and other Asian nations to work through competing claims in the South China Sea to ease tensions in the region.

Mr Obama said the US and China have made "incredible strides" in their relationship and that resolving the South China Sea disputes in a "constructive" way would strengthen ties throughout Asia.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea against competing countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Chinese ships used water cannon in January to drive Filipino fishermen away from a disputed shoal, the Philippine military said.

Mr Xi said through an interpreter that there was "greater space where China and the US are cooperating" and that Beijing is "firmly committed" to a "new model of international relations".

The media was ushered out of the two leaders' meeting shortly after Mr Xi's remarks, and it was unclear if he responded directly to Mr Obama's comments on the South China Sea issue.

The two presidents, meeting for the first time this year, held talks in the Netherlands yesterday while attending the Nuclear Security Summit, where the focus of the two-day conference has been overtaken by the crisis in Ukraine.

Mr Obama is seeking to mobilise opposition to Russia's incursion into Crimea.

The talks between Mr Xi and Mr Obama were complicated by renewed tensions over the US National Security Agency's (NSA's) surveillance programme and revelations by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

China's Foreign Ministry yesterday demanded a "clear explanation" from the US after the New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the NSA breached the servers of Huawei, China's largest phone-equipment maker.

The topic was not addressed in their statements to reporters before the start of the meeting.

The two leaders were also due to discuss issues that include halting North Korea's nuclear ambitions and combating climate change.

The meeting comes ahead of the US President's planned trip to Asia next month that includes stops in South Korea and Japan.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Xi saying that he agreed with what Mr Obama wrote in a recent letter to him that China-US cooperation was beneficial for the two countries.

"Beijing will also join Washington in handling bilateral ties based on such principles as non-confrontational actions, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation," Xinhua quoted Mr Xi as telling his US counterpart.

Mr Obama also raised economic and trade issues at the meeting, emphasising that his administration wanted to make sure "that we are both abiding by the rules that allow for us to create jobs and prosperity in both of our countries".

Mr Obama's wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, is currently travelling through China with their daughters on a trip during the spring break.

Mrs Obama, who has focused on promoting cultural and educational relations between the two countries, met President Xi last Friday.