SHANGHAI, China — President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao held an unscheduled meeting Saturday morning on the sidelines of a summit of Asian leaders on the Indonesian island of Bali, and the two briefly discussed the territorial dispute in the South China Sea that has unnerved some of China's neighbors.
National security adviser Thomas Donilon told reporters afterward that while the United States took no position on the competing territorial claims to the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, it did have "an interest in the freedom of navigation, the free flow of commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes."
Donilon said the short meeting between Obama and Wen focused primarily on economics, specifically the steps China could take, including continuing to allow its currency to appreciate, to help the global economic recovery.
He said Wen requested the unplanned meeting so that the two leaders could continue a conversation begun Friday night at dinner.
The Chinese side Saturday was slow in releasing any details of the Obama-Wen meetings.
The surprise session came at the end of Obama's nine-day Asia trip, which began with a stop in Hawaii and took him to Australia's northern coast and to the capital, Canberra, where he announced plans for a permanent U.S. military basing arrangement in the Pacific.
A strong subtext of the administration's announced pivot to Asia has been shoring up long-standing alliances and reassuring traditional allies that the United States would help counter a newly assertive China, which is increasing its military spending and pressing its territorial claims in the region.
The new administration focus on Asia has unnerved China, with some analysts and the state-run media accusing the United States of trying to impose its dominance on the region as it winds down the decade-long conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. An editorial Saturday by Xinhua, the state news agency, said the U.S. "pivot" has stirred strong suspicions among countries in the region.
"If the United States sticks to its Cold War mentality and continues to engage with Asian nations in a self-assertive way, it is doomed to incur repulsion in the region," said Xinhua, whose editorials often reflect the views of the ruling Communist Party.
Donilon said the administration has stressed to Beijing that although the United States will continue to support its allies and contribute to regional stability, that does not mean it will seek confrontation with China or try to block China's rise.