BEIJING, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- China has cautioned against foreign interference in the disputed oil-rich South China Sea.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao discussed the South China Sea dispute on the sidelines of last week's East Asia summit, Press Trust of India reports.
At issue is the agreement last month between India and Vietnam to promote oil exploration in the South China Sea, the announcement of which irked China.
When asked Monday about the discussion between the two leaders, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China has repeatedly said it doesn't want to see outside forces involved in the dispute.
"China's position on this is clear and consistent. That is, the dispute should be solved between countries directly concerned through friendly consultation and negotiation. Outside intervention or bringing the issue to a multilateral forum will only complicate the issue and will not help resolve the issue," Liu said.
The South China Sea has proven oil reserves of around 7.7 billion barrels, with estimates reaching 28 billion barrels.
China maintains it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea, while Vietnam asserts competing claims over parts of the sea, including the Spratly Islands. The disputed waters are also claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
Wen maintained he didn't want to address the South China Sea issue at the summit but said he was "willing to reiterate China's stance," China's official Xinhua news agency reports.
But the BBC quoted an unnamed White House official as saying that during the East Asia summit, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and India had all raised the South China Seas issue.
And U.S. President Barak Obama, who attended the summit for the first time, said it was a "premier" arena to discuss "maritime security."
The White House official said that China would come away from the summit "believing that a heavy-handed approach on the South China Sea will backfire badly and there is a genuine consensus on the importance of a constructive process to find a peaceful way forward," the source told the BBC.
But on Monday Liu, of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said "There is no power in the world that can prevent the development of bilateral relations between the two countries," in apparent reference to Obama's efforts during the summit to isolate China on the South China Sea dispute.