Honolulu: The United States and China held talks on rising tensions in the South China Sea, with Beijing angry over Washington's support to Southeast Asian countries.

Senior officials of the Pacific powers were meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, days after the United States rallied behind the Philippines and Vietnam which have been alarmed at what they see as Beijing's growing assertiveness at sea.

Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said ahead of the talks that he would make clear to China the "strong principles" of the United States in defence of freedom of navigation.

"We want recent tensions to subside and cooler heads to prevail," Campbell told reporters in Washington on Saturday.

Campbell reiterated that the United States takes no stance on China's territorial disputes with its neighbours -- a point of contention for some US lawmakers who have been pressing for a more proactive role.

"The United States has no intention to fan the flames in the South China Sea and we have a very strong interest in the maintenance of peace and stability," Campbell said.

But China's top official at the Hawaii talks, vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai, warned that US support of its partners in Southeast Asia "can only make things more complicated."

Cui said that the United States should limit itself to urging "more restraint and responsible behavior from those countries that have been frequently taking provocative actions."