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Clinton Says ‘Zero-Sum’ Approach Won’t Work in South China Sea

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that a “zero-sum” approach to competing claims in the South China Sea will only yield negative results.

“We recognize that a zero-sum approach in the Asia-Pacific will lead only to negative-sum results,” Clinton said in Phnom Penh, where the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China discussed a Code of Conduct for the oil-rich waters.

Clinton warned of rising tensions and urged Asean and China to finalize an agreement that would help manage competing claims. “No nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric, and disagreements over resource exploitation,” Clinton said.

When asked at a press conference about the stakes involved if Asean and China fail to reach agreement, Clinton said, “Let’s wait and see what happens.”

Earlier in the day, Clinton had urged the 10-member Asean and China to consider cooperative arrangements to exploit hydrocarbon resources in the waters. The decision-making process would be collaborative instead of dominated by China alone, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Measures “could include equitable joint exploration and exploitation arrangements in areas of unresolved territorial sovereignty,” Clinton said in comments to a regional security summit. “The goal should be to find creative ways to provide an endowment for future generations and to avoid unnecessary conflict.”

China and four Asean nations have competing claims in the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines reject China’s map of the waters as a basis for joint development.

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