US Secretary of State John Kerry, at a meeting with Southeast Asian leaders this weekend, will press for a voluntary freeze on actions aggravating territorial disputes in the South China Sea, in spite of Beijing's rejection of the idea.
Daniel Russel, the US State Department's senior diplomat for East Asia, said ahead of Kerry's trip to the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) that the call was "not rocket science", but "common sense".
A priority for Kerry would be to lower tensions in the South China Sea, where about US$5 trillion of maritime trade passes annually, and where China and four members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have rival claims.
"The regional economy is too important and too fragile for any country or any claimant to use the threat of military force or paramilitary force in retaliation, for intimidation, or as a coercive effort," Russel told a news briefing on Monday.
He said rival claimants could "take some voluntary steps" such as agreeing a moratorium in land reclamation efforts.
China, which will also participate in the ARF meeting, had earlier rejected the idea of a freeze, saying it could build what it wanted on its South China Sea islands. "What China does or doesn't do is up to the Chinese government," said the Foreign Ministry's Yi Xianliang.