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Clinton at APEC Urges End to Trade Barriers, Maritime Disputes

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Asia-Pacific business leaders to help dismantle trade barriers as part of a visit to Russia also aimed at promoting cooperation on resolving regional maritime skirmishes.

Speaking to executives yesterday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok, Clinton called for “concrete steps” to reduce “protectionist policies that distort markets.” Her itinerary includes meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Japan and South Korea, all of whom have competing territorial claims with China or each other.

The top U.S. diplomat is wrapping up a six-nation, 11-day tour that garnered mixed results in pressing China and Southeast Asia countries to adopt a framework for negotiations on rival territorial claims in a region rich in oil and gas. The U.S. is seeking to defuse conflict in the South China Sea, through which half of the world’s commercial cargo moves.

The U.S. is trying to “lend some weight to the other parties in this conflict,” said Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “The Chinese are so big that left alone, the other small countries will be deprived of any role in the conversation.”

Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met in Beijing on Sept. 5 and pledged to build closer ties while disagreeing over the best way to solve the maritime disagreements. China has maritime disputes with several countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

Dialogue, Negotiation

Chinese President Hu Jintao met yesterday with his Vietnamese and Indonesian counterparts and said the South China Sea sovereignty issue should be resolved through dialogue and negotiation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

Speaking at the APEC CEO Summit, Clinton advocated reducing barriers, ensuring a level playing field for expanding trade and investment, and bolstering cooperation on issues including intellectual property protection and food security.

She urged business leaders to push their governments to support “high-standard trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to drop harmful protectionist policies.”

To ensure that U.S. companies are able to do business in Russia, Clinton said the Obama administration is “working closely” with Congress to lift restrictions on trade with Russia and grant permanent normal trade relations. She expressed hope that U.S. lawmakers will take action this month to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which restricted trade with the Soviet Union over its human rights record.

Syrian Pressure

Clinton yesterday met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to press for tougher international pressure against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Russia is resisting Western efforts to oust Assad as a means to ending a civil war that has killed more than 23,000 people in 18 months, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Lavrov told reporters afterward that Russia disagrees with the U.S. approach “to threaten, to increase pressure against both Syria and Iran.”

In her meetings, Clinton sought to discuss economic opportunities and trade following Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. She will also discuss efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, U.S. officials told reporters traveling with her.

Clinton and Lavrov signed agreements on scientific and environmental cooperation in the Antarctic region, promoting commercial and governmental ties at local and regional levels, and linking national parks in Alaska and Eastern Siberia. They also announced an agreement to ease visa access to facilitate business travel, tourism and bilateral investment.

‘Deepened Cooperation’

Clinton praised the initiatives as signs of “deepened cooperation” between the U.S. and Russia over the last three and a half years, since the Obama administration announced a so-called reset in relations.

The agreement to boost commercial cooperation at the regional level is intended to help U.S. agricultural exports and promote job growth in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the Russian Far East, where Exxon Mobil Corp. has invested on Sakhalin Island, the State Department said in a statement.

During an earlier photo opportunity before a meeting, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked Clinton if she had been following the Democratic Convention during her trip. She replied jokingly that she had been “banished” for the duration of the gathering of the party faithful that just ended in Charlotte, North Carolina. Clinton delayed her departures from her last two stops in East Timor and Brunei to watch her husband’s and President Barack Obama’s convention speeches.

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