She pledged to bring the issue up during her Beijing visit.
That collaborative approach has been a centerpiece of the Asia strategy adopted by the Obama administration, which has worked in recent years to build up a web of Asian alliances. But it remains to be seen whether the effort will pay off long-term.
Almost since the beginning of the administration, Obama officials have tried to nurture regional institutions to strengthen the collective backbone of Asian countries affected by China.
Early on, the administration identified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) as one of the key gatherings through which they could build involvement.
In 2010, the United States established its first embassy to ASEAN, in Indonesia. The next year, Obama attended an ASEAN summit, making him the first U.S. president to do so. He has made a point of meeting with the leaders of each country in the association at least once a year.
But the most recent ASEAN meeting exposed signs of a serious rift among Southeast Asian countries over how to cope with China’s clout. For the first time since the group was founded in 1967, foreign ministers could not agree on a final communique to end their meeting. The main sticking point: China’s close ally, Cambodia, refusing to allow any mention of the South China Sea issue.
The relationship between Japan and South Korea — the United States’ strongest Asian allies — also is showing signs of fraying. U.S. officials had invested much time and diplomatic energy trying to set up a trilateral relationship among the three countries to increase military- and data-sharing, particularly given their concerns about North Korea and China.
But a growing territorial feud over a cluster of rocky islands, as well as resurgent historic bitterness, has left South Korea and Japan barely able to talk with each other. The trilateral idea is in shambles.
So far, Clinton has spent much of her Asian trip reassuring allies in the region that the U.S. pivot to Asia is substantive and lasting. But now, in China, she faces an equally vexing problem of explaining to Beijing that those U.S. initiatives are benign and not aimed at China. It is a challenge that she has faced for nearly four years and one that her successors are likely to face for years to come.