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Secretary of State Kerry seeks diplomacy to ease tensions with China

| Saturday, July 23, 2016, 7:48 p.m.

PARIS — Secretary of State John Kerry will urge Southeast Asian nations in meetings in Laos this week to explore diplomatic ways to ease tensions with China over the South China Sea following an international court ruling denying China's claims.

Kerry travels to Laos' capital, Vientiane, on Monday for meetings of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asia Nations as tensions between China and several ASEAN members, in particular the Philippines and Vietnam, over the South China Sea are expected to dominate talks.

The annual ASEAN gathering will be the first since the July 12 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in a claim brought by the Philippines that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea.

China has angrily rejected the verdict and pledged to pursue claims that conflict with those of several smaller neighbors. China has also blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, a vital waterway through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually.

A U.S. official said it is important that ASEAN members “speak out and represent what common ground they found on issues,” including the South China Sea, as they negotiate wording for a joint statement at the end of the meeting.

Kerry will also discuss economics and trade, efforts to combat climate change, counter-terrorism and North Korea during his meetings.

The ASEAN meeting is one of the few occasions in which the secretary of State and senior North Korean officials are in the same room. The 27-nation ASEAN Regional Forum includes the United States, North Korea, Russia, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Australia, China, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Asked whether Kerry plans to meet his North Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the meeting, the U.S. official said: “Other than the ordinary milling around and passing in the hall, there are no plans for a meeting between the secretary and the North Korean foreign minister.”

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