The United States on Saturday called for China to lower tensions in the East 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 on the East Sea, a strategic and potentially oil-rich area where China has sometimes overlapping disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
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.
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 behavior 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."