Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at an Asian regional security meeting in Vietnam, stressed that the United States remained neutral on which regional countries had stronger territorial claims to the islands. But she said that the United States had an interest in preserving free shipping in the area and that it would be willing to facilitate multilateral talks on the issue.

Though presented as an offer to help ease tensions, the stance amounts to a sharp rebuke to China. Beijing has insisted for years that all the islands belong to China and that any disputes should be resolved by China. In March, senior Chinese officials pointedly warned their American counterparts that they would brook no interference in the South China Sea, which they called part of the “core interest” of sovereignty.

Many of the islands are just rocks or spits of sand, but they are rich in oil and natural gas deposits, and China views them as important outposts that extend its territorial waters far into the busy shipping lanes in the sea.

“The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The announcement was a significant victory for the Vietnamese, who have had deadly clashes in past decades with China over some of the islands. Vietnam’s strategy has been to try to “internationalize” the disputes by bringing in other players for multilateral negotiations.

The administration’s decision to get involved appeared to catch China flat-footed and angered its foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, at a time when the country is already on edge over naval exercises the United States and South Korea will hold starting this weekend off the Korean Peninsula.

Twelve of the 27 countries at the security meeting spoke out in favor of a new approach to the South China Sea, prompting Mr. Yang to observe that the American effort seemed orchestrated.

International concern has been deepening about China’s maritime ambitions, which have expanded with its economic and military muscle. China raised tensions with Vietnam this year with plans to develop tourism in one of the island groups, the Paracels, which the two nations fought over in 1974 before China assumed full control. They had another lethal clash in 1988 over the Spratly island group.

In recent months, administration officials said, China has harassed fishing boats and leaned on energy companies that have tried to make offshore deals with other countries.

Although American relations with China on political and economic matters are regarded as stable, military ties have become strained over United States arms sales to Taiwan and American concerns about China’s growing naval ambitions. In June, China withdrew an invitation to host a visit by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and the two have largely suspended regular military-to-military talks.

This week, China was already bristling over the joint American-South Korean naval exercises because some drills are to take place in the Yellow Sea, which China claims as a military operation zone.


Choe Sang-hun contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea, and Edward Wong from Beijing.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 24, 2010, on page A4 of the New York edition.

China Passes U.S. as World's Biggest Energy Consumer, IEA Says

Grant Smith and Christian Schmollinger
Jul 20, 2010

China overtook the U.S. as the world’s biggest energy user last year, emphasizing that developing nations are driving global growth, according to the International Energy Agency.

China consumed 2,252 million metric tons of oil equivalent in 2009 in the form of crude, coal, natural gas, nuclear power and renewable sources, IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said yesterday. That exceeded the 2,170 million tons used by the U.S.

“It’s one of those major turning points,” Tilak Doshi, the chief economist at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore, said in a phone interview. “China is growing by leaps and bounds. You’ve got OECD countries where you’re talking about oil demand peaking, meanwhile the emerging countries like China and India will keep growing their energy demand.”

China’s gross domestic product expanded 10.3 percent in the second quarter even as the government took measures to cool growth. China, with Hong Kong included, was the biggest energy user in 2009, consuming 2.2 billion tons of oil equivalent, BP Plc said in its annual Statistical Review of World Energy in June. The U.S. was second and Russia ranked third, BP said.

“As China overtakes the U.S. as the world’s largest energy consumer, it is not only a domestic issue for China, but has repercussions for the rest of the world not only in supply terms, but also in how the energy is consumed,” Birol said in an interview by phone from Paris. “If China uses electric cars, hybrids and so on, they will impose the manufacturing line on most of the rest of the world.”

China Skeptical

The IEA’s data are “not very credible,” Zhou Xi’an, head of the National Energy Administration’s general office, said at a media briefing in Beijing today.

“When the IEA came to China to publish its energy outlook a couple of days ago, they also over-estimated China’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions,” Zhou said. “We think that’s because of a lack of knowledge about China, especially about China’s latest developments of energy conservation and renewable energy.”

At the same time China increases its use of fossil fuels, it is boosting renewable energy projects. The nation may spend about 5 trillion yuan ($738 billion) in the next decade developing cleaner sources of energy to reduce emissions from burning oil and coal, Jiang Bing, head of the National Energy Administration’s planning and development department, said in Beijing today.

China’s oil imports gained 48 percent last year and have almost doubled since 2005, according to customs data. The nation increased net crude imports to a record 22.1 million tons in June, or about 5.4 million barrels a day, customs figures show.

Declining Output

Global oil supplies will become “tighter” after 2015 as a result of declining production outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and growing control of reserves by state-run producers, Birol said.

The U.S. remains the largest oil consumer, using 843 million tons in 2009, more than double China’s 405 million, according to BP. China burnt 1,537 million tons of coal last year, compared with 498 million in the U.S., BP said.

The reliance on coal saw China surpass the U.S. in carbon emissions in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. China released 6.533 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2008, compared with 5.832 million for the U.S.

“When we look at the countries who are engines of global energy-demand growth, namely China, China, China, India and Middle East, then I am a bit more optimistic,” Birol said.

The IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook on supply and demand through to 2035, to be released in November, will focus on three particular topics, he said.

These will be the cost of renewable energy sources; costs faced by the energy industry following the failure to reach an accord in Copenhagen; and the diversion of oil supplies in the Caspian Sea region from Europe to Asia.

The IEA is an adviser to 28 developed nations, all of whom are also members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Total energy consumption in Mtoe  US    China
2000 2270 1107
2001 2228 1104
2002 2254 1193
2003 2260 1356
2004 2306 1576
2005 2317 1707
2006 2295 1865
2007 2333 1977
2008 2281 2131
2009 (e) 2169 2252

To contact the reporters on this story: Grant Smith in London at; Christian Schmollinger in Singapore at