The US secretary of state, John Kerry, will urge south-east Asian countries in meetings in Laos next week to explore diplomatic ways to ease tensions with China over the South China Sea, following an international court ruling denying China’s claims.
Kerry travels to Laos’s capital, Vientiane, on Monday for meetings of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN), where tensions between China and several members, in particular the Philippines and Vietnam, is expected to dominate talks. Laos has close political and economic ties with China.
“The secretary will reinforce our hope that … the parties will now turn to constructively engaging in a effort to find diplomatic ways to peacefully interact in the South China Sea,” a senior US official told reporters ahead of the trip.
The annual ASEAN gathering will be the first since the 12 July ruling by the permanent court of arbitration in the Hague in a claim brought by the Philippines that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea.
China has angrily rejected the verdict and pledged to pursue claims that conflict with those of several smaller neighbors. China has also blamed the US for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, a vital waterway through which more than $5tn of trade moves annually.
Citing international rules, the US has conducted freedom-of-navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands where China has been bolstering its military presence, which has exacerbated tensions.