HANGZHOU • United States President Barack Obama has urged China to respect an international tribunal ruling on its South China Sea maritime claims and pledged Washington's commitment to its allies' security, while Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the US to play a "constructive role" in the waterway dispute.
A statement from the White House said Mr Obama emphasised the importance for China, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, "to abide by its obligations under that treaty, which the United States views as critical to maintaining the rules- based international order".
"The President also underscored the United States' unwavering commitment to the security of its treaty allies, and noted that the strength of those alliance relationships has contributed to the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region."
In their Saturday meeting ahead of the Group of 20 leaders' summit which opened yesterday, Mr Xi told Mr Obama that China would resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea.
He also urged the US to play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the region, as he pledged China's commitment to resolving the disputes peacefully through talks with other claimants, and to safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea.
It was the leaders' first direct exchange on the South China Sea issue since a Hague-based arbitral tribunal issued a ruling on July 12 that dismissed Beijing's claims.
China has denounced the decision as "null and void", saying the tribunal ruled beyond its jurisdiction and accusing the judges of acting unfairly. It has also accused the US of stirring up trouble by supporting the tribunal case initiated by the Philippines in 2013.
Sino-Asean expert Xu Liping from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said China's actions in the South China Sea after the G-20 summit would be proof of whether it was offended by Mr Obama's decision to talk about the tribunal ruling at a multilateral event.
"But one can also see it positively, as a sign of maturity in the bilateral relationship, that they could talk openly about differences and show their bottom line clearly to avoid strategic miscalculations, while pursuing cooperation on other fronts," he told The Straits Times.
The two leaders announced their ratification of the Paris Agreement on cutting global-warming emissions last Saturday. They also talked one-to-one during a night stroll around the West Lake State Guesthouse, similar to what they did in Beijing in 2014 and in California in 2013.
Kor Kian Beng