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Chinese premier to visit Cambodia, Thailand, attend Southeast Asia meeting

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will take part in a Southeast Asian meeting in Cambodia from Sunday that will include President Barack Obama and regional leaders, which comes as China is locked in territorial disputes with its neighbors.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Wen will visit Cambodia and Thailand from Sunday to Wednesday. Hong did not provide specific dates for each leg of Wen's visit.

Hong said Wen will attend the East Asian Summit and other meetings in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member bloc that China is not a part of but holds talks with.

Tensions have flared recently over territorial disputes in the region, including rival claims by China, the Philippines and Vietnam to South China Sea islands and waters that are believed to be rich in gas and oil and straddle busy shipping routes.

Two other ASEAN members — Brunei and Malaysia — also have been embroiled in South China Sea territorial rifts.

China has opposed any attempt to bring the disputes to international forums, including ASEAN, preferring to negotiate one-on-one with rival claimants. It has warned the United States, which has been reasserting its role as an Asia-Pacific power, to stay away from the sea disputes.

The United States, which has tens of thousands of forces based in the Asia-Pacific, views itself as a stabilizing influence in the region, and its diplomacy on the South China Sea, where it says it holds no position on the competing sovereignty claims, has helped boost its standing in Southeast Asia.

But criticism of China risks straining ties with Beijing that the U.S. also sees as crucial for regional stability.