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Aug 5, 2015 12:26 AM

Kerry urges peaceful resolutions to South China Sea disputes

The Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday urged China to end provocative land reclamation projects in the South China Sea and work out effective resolutions to territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors that have ratcheted up tensions in some of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes.

Speaking at a Southeast Asian regional security forum, Kerry told foreign ministers of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that the U.S. shares their desire for negotiated settlements to contested claims. A senior U.S. official said Kerry had earlier made a blunt case for easing tensions in a closed-door meeting with China's foreign minister.

"The United States shares the frequently expressed desire of ASEAN members to preserve the peace and stability of the South China Sea," Kerry told the ASEAN ministers. "We want to ensure the security of critical sea lanes and fishing grounds, and we want to see that disputes in the area are managed peacefully and on the basis of international law."

Chinese land reclamation in contested waters has irked Southeast Asian nations who, like the U.S., want China to stop. Washington is calling for a halt to aggressive actions by China and other claimants to allow a diplomatic solution to the rift. The U.S. is not a party to the conflict but says a peaceful resolution of the problem and freedom of navigation are in the U.S. national interest.

China rejects any U.S. involvement and insists it has the right to continue the reclamation projects. Beijing was opposed to the issue being raised at the security forum.

Kerry met earlier Wednesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi . The senior U.S. official said the secretary had reiterated U.S. concerns about the rising tensions and "China's large scale reclamation, construction, and militarization of features."

The official said Kerry had "encouraged" China, and the other claimants, "to halt problematic actions in order to create space for diplomacy." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the private meeting.

Kerry told the ASEAN ministers that his meeting with Wang had been "good." He said he hoped that over the course of the two-day forum "we will find a way to move forward effectively, together, all of us."

However, Wang on Tuesday said all of Beijing's activities are in Chinese territory and there should be no double standards on the issue, a reference to land reclamation work by other claimants. He said all parties should support China and ASEAN in speeding up negotiations for a code of conduct.

"It's not a constructive move to exercise double standards on the issue," Wang told reporters. "China and ASEAN are capable enough to work together to maintain the peace and stability in the South China Sea."

But the secretary-general of the 10-member ASEAN said Tuesday that although China has pledged to start substantive negotiations with ASEAN on a "code of conduct" governing behavior in the resource-rich and busy waterways, there is a gap between its pledge and the situation on the ground.

China, Taiwan and several ASEAN members the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei have wrangled over ownership and control of the South China Sea in a conflict that has flared on and off for decades.

Tensions rose last year when China began building artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, which the U.S. and Beijing's rival claimant countries fear could impede freedom of navigation and overflights in a major transit area for the world's oil and merchandise.

The disputes have led to deadly confrontations between China and Vietnam, and Washington and governments in the region are concerned that greater military deployments increase the risk of miscalculations and accidental clashes that could spiral out of control.

U.S. officials have said the amount of land reclaimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan in the disputed area over the last 45 years totals 100 acres, a fraction of the more than 1,200 3,000 acres reclaimed by China in the last 18 months alone.

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