US pledges to monitor South China Sea after Beijing rejects calls to curb its actions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 4:37pm

The United States will monitor actions in the South China Sea to see whether "de-escalatory steps" are being taken, a senior State Department official said yesterday, a day after Beijing rejected US pressure to rein in its actions in the disputed waters.

The official spoke as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Sydney for a meeting between Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Australian officials to discuss increased defence and cybersecurity cooperation.

A US proposal for a freeze on provocative acts in the South China Sea got a cool response from China and some Southeast Asian nations at a regional meeting at the weekend, an apparent setback to Washington's efforts to thwart China's assertive actions.

The State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that close ally Australia had supported a US proposal put forward at the Asean meeting in Myanmar which called for a voluntary freeze on provocative actions in the disputed sea.

Tensions spiked in May when China parked a giant oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam. The US and Philippine proposals aimed to prevent such actions, as well as building and land reclamation work on disputed islands being carried out by China and other claimants.

Kerry and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop attended the Naypyidaw meeting before travelling to Australia together. The pair planned to explore follow-up actions to the Myanmar talks including an upcoming meeting between Asean members and China, the official said.

Bishop is hosting the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations in Sydney, where defence and security cooperation is expected to be high on the agenda along with developments in Iraq and Ukraine.

Talks will include discussions on cooperation in ballistic missile defence, cybersecurity and maritime security, the official added.

The ministers will also sign an agreement reached between US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the deployment of US Marines to Australia for joint exercises and training in areas such as disaster relief.

Some 1,150 Marines are currently stationed in Darwin.