South China Sea
China claims most of the South China Sea as part of its maritime territoryReuters

Beijing is turning more hawkish over the South China Sea, with top Chinese authorities exhorting Washington not "to choose sides", and keep away from the hotly contested region ahead of their bilateral security talks.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang, speaking at a public forum attended by high-level American officials, said: "In fact the United States is not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, and it said it takes no position on territorial disputes," reported Reuters.

"So we hope the US can stick to its promises and not choose sides, but can set its position based on the rights and wrongs of the case rather than whether somebody is an ally. I think if they can do this, and if they can stop provocative acts targeted at China's sovereignty and security interests, then the US can play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and promote a lowering of the temperature on this issue."

Recent months have witnessed several tense moments in the South China Sea as all parties involved in the dispute including Japan, the US and China have stepped up their claims. This has led to a war of words and opened avenues to even a potential confrontation between the rival sides. Washington insists it has navigational rights as per international regulations while patrolling the region. China says the patrols are close to islands which are unilaterally claimed by Beijing, and hence tantamount to provocation.

Coinciding with the vice foreign minister's remarks, the Chinese ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai echoed similar concerns. In a sharp opinion piece for Bloomberg, Cui wrote: "We may have major differences, but we also share important interests, including maintaining regional peace and stability, supporting freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law, and resolving disputes through peaceful negotiations and diplomatic dialogue."