Beijing Softens on South China Sea

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BALI--China is toning down tensions with the U.S., proposing to fund improved maritime cooperation in Southeast Asia, after President Barack Obama challenged its actions in the South China Sea at a summit of Asian leaders.

Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin on Nov. 19 said China was committed to keeping sea lanes secure and called the U.S. “an important player in Asia ever since the second world war.” Beijing also did not criticize a U.S. agreement with Australia to bolster U.S. military presence in the region. Washington announced this week that as many as 2,500 Marines will be stationed in the north of the country.

China is “soft-talking to prevent more members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from joining the Washington-led containment policy,” Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct history professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said by e-mail. “Placatory gestures are being bolstered by dollar diplomacy: More developmental and infrastructure aid will be pouring into ASEAN countries, particularly those that have not fallen for America’s siren song.”