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U.S., China broach South China Sea in Hawaii talks

By Travis Quezon

HONOLULU (Reuters) - The United States and China kicked off a new round of consultations on the Asia Pacific region in Hawaii Saturday by broaching the flaring tensions in the South China Sea, a U.S. official said.

The first set of talks in the superpowers' Asia Pacific push -- agreed upon by President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao -- came at the end of a difficult week for the two countries over the growing antagonism in the South China Sea between China and its neighbors.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell emerged from the day-long talks acknowledging detailed discussions on the South China Sea and maritime security, but offered few details.

"We want tensions to subside," Campbell said. "We have a strong interest in the maintenance of peace and stability. And we are seeking a dialogue among all the key players."

China has shown increasing assertiveness in its claim to the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas. Vietnam has accused Chinese boats of harassing a Vietnamese oil exploration ship in the region.

Campbell said the U.S. delegation stressed China's military expansions have raised concerns, but hoped greater transparency and dialogue would help ease those concerns.

His counterpart in the talks, China's Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, did not make himself available to the media.

Earlier in the week, Cui told foreign reporters in Beijing China had not provoked any incidents in the South China Sea and said if Washington wanted to play a role it should urge restraint on other claimants.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck back by saying she was "concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability in the region."

She pledged support to the Philippines, which lays claims to parts of the South China Sea, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The two delegations also discussed North Korea and Campbell said he asked China to urge North Korea to deal responsibly and appropriately with South Korea without provocation.

"We believe that for North Korea to be effective in its diplomacy, it must responsibly first work and engage with South Korea and we are encouraging that process as we go forth," Campbell said.

Also discussed were issues relating to climate change, health, disaster preparedness, piracy, and poverty in the Asia Pacific region.

The next round of talks will take place in China, Campbell said.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Todd Eastham)

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