John Kerry meets Wang Yi
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R)Reuters

The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, has expressed concerns over large-scale Chinese reclamation projects in disputed waters during a visit to China.

Kerry met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi earlier today (16 May) and urged him "to take actions that will join with everybody in helping to reduce tensions and increase the prospect of a diplomatic solution", to opposing territorial claims.

China claims around 90% of the South China Sea, which contains some of the world's most frequented shipping lanes, while the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the disputed area.

South China Sea dispute areas
China claims almost all of the South China Sea for itself.southchinasea.org

Many of the parties are pursuing reclamation projects, but the Chinese reclamation activities dwarf the efforts of the surrounding nations, claiming 2,000 acres of land as well as the construction of an airstrip on reclaimed land in the Spratly Islands.

The prospect of the balance of power changing in the area alarms the US.

Although China has expressed interest in dialogue, the country has asserted that it will not back down over what it perceives to be a defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

After the meeting, Kerry said that he "urged China… to take action that will join with everybody in helping to reduce tensions and increase the prospect of a diplomatic solution".

In retaliation, Wang said that "the determination of the Chinese side to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock and it is unshakeable".

Wang went on to say that the US and China share more common interests than differences and encouraged both sides "to act in the spirit of mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences".

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to travel to the US in September for his first official visit to the country.