Kerry made the remarks to Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of meetings involving the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where tensions in the South China Sea have taken centrestage.

The official said Kerry told Wang that while Washington did not take a position on sovereignty claims in the strategic waterway, it wanted to see them resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.

Kerry also reiterated US concerns over the 'militarisation' of features on the Chinese-held islands in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, the official added. "He encouraged China, along with the other claimants, to halt problematic actions in order to create space for diplomacy," the official said. In brief remarks to reporters after his talks with Kerry, Wang cited China would pursue 'peaceful discussions' to resolve the South China Sea dispute. He did not elaborate.

Recent satellite images show China has almost finished building a 3,000-metre-long (10,000-foot) airstrip on one of its seven new islands in the Spratlys. The airstrip will be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft, security experts have said, giving Beijing greater reach into the heart of maritime Southeast Asia.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which USD 5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

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