HANOI 0 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said maritime disagreements must be settled peacefully on Saturday at an Asia-Pacific summit marked by rhetorical clashes between China and Japan over disputed islands.
"The United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce. And when disputes arise over maritime territory, we are committed to resolving them peacefully based on customary international law," Clinton said in remarks prepared for delivery at the East Asia Summit (EAS).
A Chinese Foreign Ministry official accused Japan of damaging the atmosphere between the two countries on Friday after Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara raised the issue of the Senkaku islands, called the Diaoyus in Chinese, at the summit. Both China and Japan claim sovereignty over the isles.
In the inaugural U.S. participation in the EAS gathering, Clinton did not refer directly to the dispute but told the Asian-Pacific leaders "maritime security is another area in which we can all benefit from close cooperation".
Clinton adopted a mild tone in her comments, making no explicit reference to the many policy disagreements between the United States and China, including the value of the Chinese currency, pressuring North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions and a dispute over so-called rare earth minerals.
Analysts regard U.S. participation in the meeting as a way for Washington to weigh in on Asian security issues such as territorial disputes over the South China Sea.
She said the United States -- which will be represented by President Barack Obama at next year's summit in Indonesia -- wanted "to help strengthen and build this organisation as a key forum for political and strategic issues in the Asia-Pacific."
"We believe that the EAS should pursue an active agenda that involves the most consequential issues of our time -- including nuclear proliferation, the increase in conventional arms, maritime security, climate change, and the promotion of shared values and civil society, she said.
She adopted a restrained tone on human rights, an issue where many Asian countries resent U.S. criticism and regard it as interference in their internal affairs.
"While the United States agrees that no country can impose its values on others, we do believe that certain values are universal -- and that they are intrinsic to stable, peaceful, and prosperous countries," she said in remarks released by the State Department. "Human rights are in everyone's interest."
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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