ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Secretary of State John F. Kerry is headed to Beijing this week to press China on its expanding territorial claims.
The Obama administration sharpened its position on the issue last week, saying Beijing's attempt to base its claims on historical maps – the so-called nine-dash line – doesn't square with international law.
China's claims on land, water and airspace have heightened tensions with its neighbors, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. They are looking to Washington for support on the issue.
The position laid out by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel in congressional testimony on Feb. 5 has been described by some analysts as a major departure for Washington, which has been seeking to calm regional tensions.
A senior administration official traveling with Kerry said Wednesday that Washington doesn't take a position on the legitimacy of the claims themselves. But he said the administration wants China to explain its claims "in a manner consistent with international law."
"Ambiguity about claims generates uncertainty and raises risk," the official said.
"We want to hear from Beijing about that," said another U.S. official.
China's Foreign Ministry criticized the new U.S. approach on Feb. 6 as "not constructive," and asserted that China's claims are well founded.
Kerry arrives in China on Friday after meeting South Korean officials on Thursday. He flies to Indonesia on Saturday and the United Arab Emirates on Monday.
Another top subject of discussion on the trip will be North Korea's expanding nuclear weapon and missile programs. Kerry will also discuss climate change in Beijing and Jakarta, and Iran's nuclear program in the United Arab Emirates.