Update as of 7:09 a.m. EDT: China's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the country has stopped construction in the disputed South China Sea, after a regional meeting where several countries agreed to speed up consultations on resolving territorial disputes in the region, Reuters reported.
"China has already stopped," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said. "Just take an aeroplane to take a look," according to the report.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed ongoing tensions in the South China Sea on Wednesday, with Kerry urging China to pull back its sweeping territorial claims that have led to frequent diplomatic clashes with regional allies.
Speaking at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Kuala Lumpur, Kerry called for negotiated settlements to resolve ongoing territorial disputes between China and other regional powers, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. China claims most of the sea under its historical “nine-dash line” claim, which is not recognized by international authorities. The South China Sea is a critical asset for global shipping and fishing, as it sees over $5 trillion in maritime trade every year.
"We want to ensure the security of critical sea lanes and fishing grounds and to see that disputes in the area are managed peacefully and on the basis of international law," Kerry said, according to the Associated Press (AP). "I hope very much that at this meeting over the course of today and tomorrow we will find a way to move forward, effectively, together, all of us."
His remarks came after a meeting with Wang earlier in the day. An unnamed U.S. official told the AP that Kerry had made a more blunt case for easing tensions behind closed doors and expressed his concerns about "China's large scale reclamation, construction, and militarization of features."
Washington has been strongly critical of Beijing’s expansion projects on disputed territories, which has included building air bases and potential military facilities as well as a major land reclamation project in the disputed Spratly Islands.
Kerry told the other ASEAN ministers at the summit that his meeting with Wang had been “good.”
"We will find a way to move forward effectively, together, all of us," he added.
On Tuesday, Wang had said China’s South China Sea activity was legitimate, and dismissed what he called “double standards” from Washington.
“It's not a constructive move to exercise double standards on the issue," Wang told reporters. "China and ASEAN are capable enough to work together to maintain the peace and stability in the South China Sea."
Le Luong Minh, Secretary General of ASEAN, had previously said that the body “could not accept” China’s territorial claims.
After his talk with Kerry, Wang said that China would pursue ‘peaceful discussions” in order to resolve the dispute, but did not offer further details.
China has previously accused the U.S. of interfering in its affairs in the South China Sea. It criticized joint war games that the U.S. held with the Philippines in April as well as U.S. surveillance flyovers, and has defended the legitimacy of its claims and construction projects in the region.