The United States and Japan seek to convince countries which are part of the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) to include concerns about the South China Sea in a statement to be released after regional defence talks in Malaysia, although China objects to the disputed waterway being discussed in the meeting, officials said.
"We've been very clear along with many other like minded countries that South China Sea language should be included but there are members who feel differently," said the US defence official, adding that Beijing had made it clear earlier in the year that it didn't want the issue to come up at the meeting.
The 3rd ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) of 2015 kicked off on Tuesday (November 3) in Kuala Lumpur with the participation of 10 defence ministers from ASEAN, along with their counterparts from countries such as the United States, Japan, China, India and Australia.
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani came together for bilateral talks in the Malaysian capital ahead of this year's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit due to take place later this month.
A source familiar with the discussions said Japan had requested host Malaysia to “improve” the draft of the statement, urging the country to mention the South China Sea, but instead it focuses on terrorism and regional security co-operation. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had criticised China's actions in the waterway.
However, countries like Cambodia are known to support China, while Malaysia has adopted a more neutral stance on the matter.
The three-day event comes a week after the US launched a naval mission in the South China Sea, deploying the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen near two artificial islands built by Beijing in the Spratly archipelago.
Following the move that prompted reaction in China, the country’s navy chief admiral warned his US counterpart via a video teleconference that a minor incident could lead to war in the South China Sea if Washington didn't halt its "provocative acts."
But the US says its so-called freedom of navigation patrols are in accordance with international law and should not be viewed as a threat, as China feels the same for its man-made islands, saying they have been built for civilian purposes, a claim US, Japan and other nearby countries don’t buy and believe could be used for military purposes.
China claims most of the South China Sea, as Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. It is considered a critical commercial gateway, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year.