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China-Japan sea dispute overshadows Obama visit

– President Obama met with leaders from China and Japan to wrap up a three-day trip to Asia as countries in the region struggled to resolve territorial disputes that threaten to disrupt economic ties.

Obama called the U.S.-Japan alliance the “cornerstone” of regional security in a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who emphasized the importance of relations given the “increasing severity” of the security environment in Asia.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said he wanted his meeting with Obama to send a “positive message to the world.”

“It’s important that our two countries cooperate to build a more secure, prosperous future” for the Asia-Pacific region and the world, Obama told reporters as he began the meeting with Wen in the Cambodian capital.

“As the two largest economies in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead the way in ensuring sustained and balanced growth.”

Tensions over China’s territorial claims risk disrupting commercial ties between Asia’s biggest economies as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and the U.S. fiscal cliff threaten global growth.

Japan this month said it would bolster military ties with the U.S. after its purchase of islands claimed by China rattled a $340 billion trade relationship.

“There needs to be a reduction of the tensions in the East China Sea and a process going forward, more broadly, to ensure that these types of disputes don’t risk escalation,” said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser.

“We believe that the alliance we have and the military cooperation we have with Japan has been an anchor of stability in Asia for decades, and has helped, by the way, create the context that has allowed for broader prosperity and the peaceful rise of China.”

Wen told Asian leaders that China does not want to “overemphasize” territorial disputes at international meetings, according to Fu Ying, deputy foreign minister.

Wen affirmed China’s sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea and said defense of that sovereignty is “necessary and legitimate,” Fu told reporters in Phnom Penh.

Chinese and Philippine vessels squared off earlier this year over the shoal, which is claimed by both countries. The Philippines on Tuesday called for talks among claimant states.

“At no time in the contemporary history of the South China Sea have clarification and delimitation of maritime areas become more urgent and imperative than they are now,” President Benigno Aquino said in a statement that was distributed in Phnom Penh.

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