Beijing - US President Barack Obama called for a "peaceful resolution" on Friday of territorial disputes in the South China Sea during a meeting with Asian leaders, indicating strong intentions by Washington to expand its influence in the region, according to analysts.
This move will also, say experts, hinder the very nature of the relationships needed to solve these issues.
"As president, I've made it clear that the US intends to play a leadership role in Asia," Obama said during the meeting with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"The president and the (ASEAN) leaders agreed on the importance of peaceful resolutions of disputes, freedom of navigation, regional stability, and respect for international law, including in the South China Sea," read a briefing of the meeting.
The ASEAN group, which includes Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, has been eager for the US to take a position, and to affirm that it will continue to extend its security umbrella. Among these nations, Vietnam voiced the most enthusiasm for the US statement, The Los Angeles Times reported.
However, given the sensitivities on all sides, ASEAN officials had wanted the message to be more nuanced, according to the news report which quoted Ernest Bower, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank as saying.
Sino-US relations have deteriorated in the recent months due to an increasingly aggressive US presence in Asia - including remarks by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alluding to a "national interest" in the South China Sea disputes.
Earlier this week, China expressed its concern over the US-ASEAN joint statement, voicing opposition to the internationalization of the South China Sea disputes.
Jiang Yu, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stressed on Saturday the importance of a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea disputes through friendly bilateral consultation.
"China has and always will work toward a peaceful resolution of the disputes," Jiang said.
Meanwhile, former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan said on Friday that peace and stability will best serve the common interests of China, ASEAN and other countries of the South China Sea - but without an outside intervention that could broaden and complicate the issues.
Chinese analysts see Obama's speech as a direct challenge to the bilateral negotiation mechanisms in solving the territorial disputes.
"China will try its best to peacefully solve the territorial disputes in the South China Sea," said Fu Mengzi, a professor at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. He added that Beijing consistently rejects efforts by irrelevant parties to inject themselves into the negotiations - something that could ultimately complicate the issues.
"If the US were a leader in Asia as Obama described, it should encourage more bilateral negotiations, rather than internationalizing the issue," Fu noted.
"Most territorial disputes in the world have been resolved through bilateral negotiations," Shi Yinhong, a senior scholar in American studies at the Beijing-based Renmin University of China, told China Daily.
China, he added, "is willing to negotiate with individual nations about the disputes, but does not accept negotiations with ASEAN as a whole - not to mention US participation, which is inconsistent with international laws."
Wang Haishan contributed to this story.