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China's role in Southeast Asia in question over assertiveness on territorial claims

China is finding the once friendly ground of Southeast Asia bumpy going, with anger against Chinese claims to disputed islands, once reliable ally Myanmar flirting with democracy and renewed American attention to the region.

The changing terrain for Beijing was on view this past week at a conclave of East Asian nations in Cambodia. Wen Jiabao, China's lame duck premier, got into a sharp exchange over the contested South China Sea islands. The leaders of the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam reacted furiously when host Cambodia suggested that all sides agreed not to bring outside parties into the dispute — a reference to the U.S.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, buoyed by his Myanmar visit, projected an image of a confident, friendly America, calling for a reduction in tensions and seemingly taking no sides.