NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar - The United States sought to ease maritime tensions as Asian and global powers gathered for security talks Sunday, but said that it did not want to "confront" China over its strategy in the region.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for an agreement to end all acts that risk further inflaming relations between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbours, following several tense encounters in the contested South China Sea this year.
Washington's top diplomat is touring the region despite a slew of major international crises in other parts of the world as the US looks to reinvigorate alliances in the Asia-Pacific as part of President Barack Obama's "pivot" east.
Observers say sea disputes will dominate the ASEAN Regional Forum in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw on Sunday, which brings together Southeast Asian foreign ministers and key partners, including the US, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the European Union.
While Washington is looking to reassure its Southeast Asian allies, officials insist there will not be a "showdown" between the two world superpowers.
"We don't want to confront China. But we have a series of interests and principles that drive our approach in the region where they diverge with China," a US administration official told reporters on Sunday.
Kerry on Saturday formally put forward Washington's proposal to cool maritime tensions based on claimant states agreeing to step back from actions that could "complicate or escalate disputes".
The US waded in to the South China Sea row following a series of maritime incidents between China and rival claimants, including Beijing's positioning of an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea, which lies on key shipping routes and is believed to be rich in mineral and oil deposits.
But its claims overlap with ASEAN states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.