A senior U.S. diplomat says Secretary of State John Kerry will urge China and its neighbors at an upcoming summit to agree to voluntarily refrain from destabilizing actions in the South China Sea.
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said Kerry will push the idea at Sunday's meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
China has repeatedly taken assertive steps to enforce its claims to nearly the entire South China Sea, rattling rival claimants, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
Russel said the proposed moratorium could include actions that attempt to change the status quo, such as seizing unoccupied islands or land reclamation efforts.
China has already rejected such a proposal, saying it is within its rights to carry out such activities in what it views as its territory.
Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said Kerry will also push China to make progress with ASEAN on a long-delayed Code of Conduct to help regulate activities and lessen tensions in the South China Sea.
China is reluctant to discuss its territorial disputes at bilateral forums such as ASEAN. It instead prefers to deal with each claimant individually, a position that gives it considerably more clout.
Beijing recently withdrew an oil rig from an area also claimed by Vietnam, bringing an end to months of heightened tensions and small-scale sea clashes.
Russel said China's withdrawal of the rig removed a serious irritant in the immediate sense, but added that the episode strained China-Vietnam ties, left a legacy of anger, and raised "serious questions" about China's long-term strategy.