“The US and China do not appear willing to risk superpower tension at this time over the resource-rich areas around the contested islets and shoals,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, head of the Institute of Security and International Studies in Bangkok.
"It is very important that as two of the largest economies in the world, that we work to establish clear rules of the road internationally for trade and investment, which can increase prosperity and global growth," said Obama after meeting China's Wen.
Obama and China play nice?
With a focus on economics, the US appeared to hold a noncommittal line on security issues during the talks, though it has spoken strongly on the South China Sea in the past, citing the need for dialogue while negotiating with Vietnam and the Philippines about supplying military hardware.
Now, however, “President Obama’s message is there needs to be a reduction of the tensions,” US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said after Tuesday's meetings. “There is no reason to risk any potential escalation, particularly when you have two of the world’s largest economies – China and Japan – associated with some of those disputes.”
China, too, sought to be diplomatic. “We do not want to bring the disputes to an occasion like this,” Wen told the summit, according to Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying, who briefed media on Tuesday evening.