Unlike last year, when sparks flew at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington had an interest in the resolution of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, this year's 27-nation forum was relatively calm as China evidently sought to maintain good relations with the United States.

On the eve of the meeting, held this year in Indonesia, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reached an agreement to establish new guidelines on implementing an agreement they signed in 2002 regarding conduct in the South China Sea. The guidelines, which are not legally binding, mark a step forward in a prolonged process to arrive at a regional code of conduct at a time when tensions have risen because of territorial disputes between China and several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines — an American ally — and Vietnam.

Speaking in Indonesia, Mrs. Clinton, without naming China, deplored the "increasing of intimidation actions, of ramming, of cutting of cables," and welcomed the new accord.