China needs to work with its neighbours to cool rising tensions over its claims to territory in surrounding seas, a top U.S. diplomat said Thursday, adding the U.S. has a strong interest in seeing such matters handled peacefully.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns stressed during talks in Beijing that no country should take unilateral action to assert its claims, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in a statement.

China should “work constructively with its neighbours to reduce tensions in the East China Sea and the South China Sea,” Mr Burns said. The statement said Mr Burns “reiterated long-standing U.S. interests in all parties managing the situation diplomatically.”

Beijing and Tokyo are locked in a bitter dispute over claims to a string of tiny East China Sea islands controlled by Japan, while Beijing is in conflict with several of its southern neighbours over islands and strategic waterways in the South China Sea.

The U.S. says it doesn’t take a position on who owns the islands, but insists on the right to freedom of navigation through surrounding seas. Washington also has mutual defence treaties with Japan and the Philippines, one of the main claimants in the South China Sea, meaning the U.S. could be drawn in if a conflict were to erupt.

The embassy said Mr Burns also discussed steps to persuade North Korea and Iran to cooperate with the international community over their nuclear programmes.

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