No country should take unilateral action that could be deemed provocative in the South China Sea in ongoing territorial disputes, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday at the close of high-level meetings in Beijing. 

"China has said to us repeatedly that [competing territorial claims] should be resolved under the terms of the law of the sea and the code of conduct, which has yet to be completed. If those things take place then hopefully restraint and common sense will rule the day," Kerry told a press briefing following the two-day talks. 

"I think our position is very clear in respect to maritime law. We want the traditional historic freedom of navigation and overflight to be respected," Kerry added. 

The eighth China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue was aimed at managing conflict between the countries and improving bilateral relations. 

The US side also raised concerns about China's legislation on foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), excess production capacity and the worsening business climate during the dialogue, however the South China Sea dispute overshadowed the meetings.

Tensions between US and China have risen as Beijing has sought to assert its control in the face of competing territorial claims from countries in the region.

Chinese President Xi Jinping had told delegates on Monday that some differences between the two sides "are quite normal," as long as both "tackle differences and sensitive issues in the principle of mutual respect and equality," Xinhua news agency reported. 

China claims most of the South China Sea, which includes overlapping claims with Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Several Chinese military deployments to the region have been reported in recent months, while the US has sent naval ships to conduct freedom of navigation operations through the Spratlys, where China has reclaimed land for construction purposes.

Washington takes no position over the competing claims, but says the issue should be resolved diplomatically and asserts the US right to freedom of the seas. 

The US actions have sent messages of deterrence to China and assurance to allies but "could also goad China into doubling down on military buildup in the South China Sea," said International Crisis Group senior analyst Yanmei Xie. 

"Washington's show of resolve and force has to be complemented by efforts to shore up ASEAN's institutional capacity and capability. It has to ensure its actions support ASEAN's leadership but not replace it," Xie said, referring to the Association of South-East Asian Nations, to which many of the countries with competing territorial claims belong.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to rule soon on a case Philippines brought against China's claims in 2013.  

Latest news

Syrian forces close in on city held by Turkish-backed rebels

Syrian government forces on Sunday seized a town from the Islamic State extremist militia near the northern city of al-Bab already under the control of Turkish-backed rebels, Syrian state media and monitors reported.

At least 90 Christian families escape Sinai attacks

At least 90 families reached Egypt's Ismailiya governorate, after escaping targeted killings by a local Islamic State militia in northern Sinai in recent days, an official at the Coptic Orthodox Church said Sunday.

40,000 Croats suffer from anorexia and bulimia

More than 40,000 Croatians, mostly girls and young women aged between 12 and 30, suffer from anorexia, bulimia or some other eating disorder and that number is growing each year, experts at the centre for eating disorders BEA have reported.

Iranian ex-president Ahmadinejad praises Trump

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a personal letter to Donald Trump in which he praised the US president and wished him well in his tenure, local media reported Sunday.

Russians honour slain opposition leader Nemtsov in Moscow rally

A demonstration on the second anniversary of the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov drew thousands of people to the streets of Moscow on Sunday.

Iran President Rowhani to run for second term

Iranian President Hassan Rowhani is to stand for a second four-year term in office, Vice-President Hussein-Ali Amiri announced Sunday.

Five injured as car hits pedestrians in south-east London

A man was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving and drink-driving on Sunday after five people were injured by a car he was driving in south-east London, police said.

Iraq retakes first neighbourhood in western Mosul from Islamic State

For the first time Iraqi forces have retaken control of a neighbourhood in the the western section of Mosul as they battle to drive the Islamic State group from their last key Iraqi stronghold, a senior commander said Sunday.

Dutch floating sheerleg arrives in Sibenik

The Italian tugboat Megara towed in the Sibenik naval port on Sunday the 72-metre long Dutch floating sheerleg "Taklift 7" which will lift a mega-yacht from a synchrolift in the NCP Repair Shipyard.

16 killed, 50 injured in truck accident in north-eastern India

At least 16 people were killed Sunday and 50 injured when the truck they were travelling in overturned on a curve and hit a barrier on the side of the road, police in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya said.

Trump's wall threatens rich wildlife along US-Mexican border

A continuous wall of the kind planned along the US-Mexican border could be an impenetrable barrier for many wild animals already affected by existing fences.

19-year-old men arrested for putting up anti-Serb stickers in Vukovar, minister condemns incident

Police have arrested a 19-year-old man, suspected of putting up anti-Serb stickers reading  "Serbian Family Tree" with an image of people hanging from a tree and the face of Ante Pavelic, Croatian fascist dictator who led the World War II Ustasha movement and the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), at bus stops along Trpinjska Street in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar.