Obama, xi, china, united states.jpg
Photograph: EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

President Barack Obama admitted Sunday that the US and China had experienced "friction" over US insistence of media inclusion during the G20 leaders summit, but said he would not apologize for standing up for a free press.

"We think it's important that the press have access to the work that we're doing, that they have the ability to answer questions," Obama said at the Group of 20 meeting. "And we don't leave our values and ideals behind when we take these trips."

The dispute over press access arose as soon as Air Force One landed in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou on Saturday.

A group of journalists accompanying Obama was held back as he exited the plane, with a Chinese official yelling at the White House staff to remove the reporters from the tarmac altogether.

A White House official told the Chinese that it was the US president and a US plane, so the US press would remain on the scene.

The Chinese official yelled back, "This is our country."

The official also had an exchange with National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes as they attempted to walk nearer to the president.

"They did things that weren't anticipated," Rice said later of the incident.

Tensions continued Sunday when part of the media pool trailing Obama was not allowed near the welcome reception at the G20 summit.

Obama insisted that the visit at which he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had taken action on climate change had "been extraordinarily productive."

But the two leaders clashed on a variety of policy issues, with Xi rejecting criticism from Obama on the Chinese policy in the South China Sea.

In discussions before the G20 summit with Obama, Xi urged the US to play rather "a constructive role" in preserving peace and stability in the South China Sea, state media reported Sunday.

China will "unswervingly" protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests, Xi said at a dinner with Obama late Saturday.

The Foreign Ministry also sharply rejected statements Obama made in an interview with US broadcaster CNN.

"We've indicated to them that there will be consequences," he said of China's actions in the South China Sea.

"Part of what I've tried to communicate to President Xi is that the United States arrives at its power, in part, by restraining itself," Obama said. "You know, when we bind ourselves to a bunch of international norms and rules it's not because we have to, it's because we recognize that over the long term, building a strong international order is in our interests."

The United States had no right to make "irresponsible remarks" over the South China Sea, China asserted, with a ministry spokesman noting that Washington has not yet ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

An international court at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recently upheld a complaint brought by the Philippines about contested islets in the South China Sea, which holds key shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources.

China refused to take part in the arbitration and said the verdict was null and void. 

The US has been clear that it will not hesitate to raise concerns with China over issues that also include concerns over cybersecurity and human rights violations.

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