Wen Jiabao adamant on South China Sea claim
Phnom Penh: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has made a strong defence of his country's claim to almost all of the South China Sea after a summit of world leaders ended in bitter disagreement over how to ease tensions in the strategic and resource-rich waterways.
"China's act of defending its sovereignty is necessary and legitimate ... and we have properly handled the incidents that were not of the making of China," Mr Wen told 17 other leaders on the final day of the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, according to Chinese vice foreign minister Fu Ying.
US president Barack Obama told the leaders to rein in tensions over the disputed territory, but stopped short of firmly backing smaller Asian nations in their disputes with China.
"President Obama's message is there needs to be a reduction of the tensions," top US security official Ben Rhodes told journalists.
"There is no reason to risk any potential escalation, particularly when you have two of the world's largest economies — China and Japan — associated with some of those disputes," Mr Rhodes said.
The decades-old disputes overshadowed the final phase of Mr Obama's whirlwind three-day trip to Thailand, Burma and Cambodia, which aimed to reinforce his administration's commitment to engage more deeply in Asia and the Pacific.
A statement by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen at the end of the summit did not make any mention of the South China Sea. This would have pleased China, which insisted the disputes stay off the summit's formal agenda.
But several leaders had raised the issue, including mentioning a tense stand-off between Chinese and Philippine ships at Scarborough Shoal, off the Philippine coast, earlier this year.
Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who attended the summit, later described exchanges as "frank". She said Australia was not taking sides in the disputes, but wanted to see a peaceful resolution.
The issue has caused deep division in the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations, whose member states are supposed to make decisions by consensus.
In a tense moment on Monday, Philippine president Benigno Aquino challenged Mr Hun Sen, who had tried to cut off a discussion about the disputes.
A Singapore government official said an early draft of Mr Hun Sen's statement had misquoted leaders' discussions and that Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam had complained about it.
China wants to negotiate directly with other claimants to the disputed territory, insisting the disputes be kept away from multilateral forums like the summit or ASEAN.
While China claims almost all of the territory, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts.
Mr Hun Sen, a close ally of China, refused to take questions on the issue at a press conference at the end of the summit, saying he was too tired.
The inability of ASEAN to agree on efforts to resolve the disputes comes as the group tackles an ambitious plan to turn the region of 600 million people into an EU-like community by the end of 2015.
The South China Sea is crossed by half of the world's total trade and is important for shipping Australian goods. Ms Gillard is flying home from Cambodia on Wednesday.