Honolulu: The United States called for China to lower tensions in the South China Sea through dialogue as the Pacific powers held first-of-a-kind talks on friction in Southeast Asia.
Senior US official Kurt Campbell said he assured China during the talks in Hawaii that the United States welcomed a strong role for Beijing, which has warned Washington against involvement in the intensifying disputes.
"We had a candid and clear discussion about these issues," Campbell, the assistant secretary of state of East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters after the session in Honolulu.
"We want tensions to subside. We have a strong interest in the maintenance in peace and stability, and we are seeking a dialogue among all of the key players," he said.
Incidents in recent weeks have heightened tension in the South China Sea, a strategic and potentially oil-rich area where China has overlapping disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Vietnam carried out live-fire drills and the Philippines ordered the deployment of its naval flagship after accusing China of aggressive actions.
While the United States and China often talk, Saturday's session was the first to focus specifically on the Asia-Pacific region. The dialogue was set up during the top-level Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington in May.
Campbell said that the United States and China would hold another round of the dialogue in China at a time to be determined.
"We had a useful and productive exchange of views," Campbell said. "I thought the overall tone and content was constructive."
The United States and China conducted "open, frank and constructive discussions with the goal of obtaining a better understanding of each other's intentions, policies and actions toward the Asia Pacific region," he said.
Campbell said that the United States highlighted during the talks in the Pacific state that it is an Asia-Pacific country with an interest in the region's peace, stability and prosperity.
He said that the United States explained that it is trying to build new partnerships in the area and that it supports a strong China.
President Barack Obama's administration has focused on building ties with Southeast Asia, accusing the previous team of George W Bush of neglecting the fast-growing and often US-friendly region due to preoccupation with wars.
The United States has rallied behind Southeast Asian nations amid the high tension in the South China Sea.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged on Thursday to help the Philippines -- a treaty ally of the United States -- to modernise its Navy. The archipelago's flagship warship is an aging vessel used by the United States in World War II.
The United States and Vietnam have also been stepping up cooperation, with the former war foes issuing a joint call during recent talks in Washington for a peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea.
The United States plans joint exercises with the Philippines and a naval exchange with Vietnam in coming weeks, although US officials have characterised the activities as routine.
China has insisted that it wants a peaceful resolution of conflicts and has voiced alarm at what some Chinese policymakers consider an effort to hold back the rising power.
China's top official at the Hawaii talks, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, warned ahead of the session that US support of its partners "can only make things more complicated”.
"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire," Cui said, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
Cui said that the United States should limit itself to urging "more restraint and responsible behaviour from those countries that have been frequently taking provocative actions”.
Campbell said that the United States also told China that its rapidly growing military spending has raised concern in the region and that "greater transparency and more dialogue will help ease those concerns”.
First Published: Sunday, June 26, 2011, 13:26