STATE DEPARTMENT —
The United States says it will monitor contested waters of the South China Sea to see if there is any de-escalation of tensions - after China knocked down a U.S. proposal at the Southeast Asian forum in Myanmar to freeze provocative acts there. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Sydney to meet with Australian officials following the Myanmar meeting.
U.S. officials say they will monitor the "rocks, reefs, and shoals in the South China Sea" looking for signs of less confrontation in waters where China's coast guard has clashed with vessels from both Vietnam and the Philippines. Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan also have competing claims, making the area -- one of the world's busiest shipping lanes - a potential flashpoint with major commercial consequences.
Kerry was hoping Southeast Asian foreign ministers meeting in Myanmar would agree to a halt to all provocative actions in the South China Sea. But China helped set back that move, leading ASEAN to agree to a softer, non-binding agreement.
Questioned about that weaker deal, Kerry said he thinks "the language does go far enough" to achieve some progress.
"We weren't seeking to pass something per se, we were trying to put something on the table that people could embrace,' he said. "A number of countries have decided that's what they're going to do. It's a voluntary process."
But it stops far short of more directly calling-out Beijing for violating international law, according to American Enterprise Institute analyst Michael Auslin.
"If you just continue to say, 'We don't want coercive behavior,' China will say, 'Well we're not coercive. They're coercive.' You've got to use something different," he said.
Without which, Auslin says, China will continue to redefine the concepts of administrative control over disputed territory.
"What it is attempting to do is say: 'No, there is no dispute. There's no dispute over the Senkakus. There's no dispute over the Spratleys. There's no dispute over much of the South China Sea. There's no dispute over the air of the East China Sea with the Defense Identification Zone because we, China, are effectively administering it,'" he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi offered ASEAN "friendly consultation", but firmly upheld Beijing's right to defend its sovereignty and interests against what he called "irrational provocation."
With China's state-run news agency questioning Washington's "real intentions" U.S. State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf says it is not Washington that is destabilizing the South China Sea.
"It’s the aggressive actions the Chinese have taken that are doing so," she said. "Everything we are doing is designed to lower tensions, to get people to resolve their differences diplomatically and not through coercive or destabilizing measures, like we’ve seen the Chinese take increasingly over the past several months."
The summit's host, Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Muang Lwin, says, "It is not that one party is trying to influence others" against one country. It is "all ASEAN, not ASEAN versus China" that will settle these disputes peacefully.