U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry increased diplomatic pressure on China on Monday, February 17th, to resolve maritime disputes with Southeast Asia based on international legal principles, rather than through individual deals as Beijing prefers. Speaking in Jakarta, Indonesia, Kerry said the stability of the Asia-Pacific depended on achieving a binding code of conduct to help nations peacefully address competing claims in the South China Sea and to avoid conflict in one of the world’s most strategically important waterways. Kerry’s comments follow stepped-up efforts by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping to persuade a reluctant China to agree to a legally binding code of conduct in the congested waters that stretch from off China’s south coast to the east of mainland Southeast Asia. Kerry added that negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal would continue and he believed the U.S. Congress would come to an appropriate conclusion on the trade talks.

(Washington Post, February 17; Reuters, February 17; Financial Times, February 17)