Kerry heads to SKorea, China, Indonesia to ease tensions on 5th trip to Asia in a year

The Associated Press

Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the Blue House on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Seoul, South Korea. Kerry is visiting South Korea, China, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates on a 7 day trip. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, Pool)

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U.S. diplomats have cited a litany of actions that China has taken recently that affect what they say is American national interest in freedom of navigation and maritime safety in the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea that are dotted with reefs and islands subject to multiple disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Those have included restricting access to a contested reef and imposing fishing regulations in disputed waters. The U.S. has also warned China that it should not declare an Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, over any part of the South China Sea.

A declared Chinese ADIZ over contested areas in the East China Sea has already drawn harsh criticism from the U.S. and its allies.

The U.S. has been urging China and the Association of South East Asian Nations to agree to a binding code of conduct for behavior in the South China Sea for years.

China has been reluctant to negotiate with ASEAN as a whole, preferring to deal with nations bilaterally and has fiercely rejected U.S. allegations that it is using vague territorial claims to gradually assert control over the disputed areas. On Saturday, China's foreign ministry said in a statement that some U.S. officials' remarks were not constructive and opined that "playing up tensions" was not conducive to maintaining peace and stability.

After Beijing, Kerry will raise the code of conduct issue again in Indonesia when he meets with the ASEAN secretary general at the bloc's headquarters in Jakarta.

Also, in Indonesia, Kerry plans to deliver a speech highlighting the importance of dealing with climate change, the officials said.

Although some have criticized the administration for ignoring it's touted "pivot to Asia," officials pointed to the White House's announcement that Obama would soon visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines as Kerry visited the continent.

After the Indonesia stop, Kerry will fly on to the United Arab Emirates before returning home.

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