US President Barack Obama will deliver a tough message to China during a summit with Southeast Asian countries that disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully and not with a big nation "bullying" smaller neighbours.
Obama is to host the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in California on Monday and Tuesday.
Though China will not be represented, Obama's aides made clear that Beijing's actions in the South China Sea - where it has proceeded with island building that US officials suspect could be turned to military use - will be one of the focal points of the summit.
"The president will call on all claimants to halt land reclamation, construction of new facilities and to carry out no militarization of outposts in the South China Sea," Dan Kritenbrink, Obama's top Asia adviser, told reporters.
China lays claim to most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped each year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Rhodes said part of Obama's message at the summit will be the need "to avoid efforts to resolve those disputes through one nation, bigger nation, bullying a smaller one", uphold freedom of navigation, and to avoid "inadvertent and unnecessary" military action in the South China Sea.
China warns US over provocative acts in South China Sea
A US Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by China and two other states in the South China Sea in late January to counter what Washington deems unacceptable efforts to limit the freedom of navigation, prompting an angry reaction from Beijing.
The US action "severely violated Chinese law, sabotaged the peace, security and good order of the waters, and undermined the region's peace and stability", said Yang Yujun, China's defence ministry spokesman, according to the Xinhua news agency.
It was the second such US military exercise carried out last year.
Meanwhile, a US defence official told Reuters that India and the United States had discussed joint navy patrols, adding that both were hopeful of launching them within the year.
The patrols would probably be in the Indian Ocean, where the Indian navy is a major player, as well as the South China Sea, the official said in New Delhi on condition of anonymity.
The official gave no details of the scale of the proposed patrols.
No immediate comment was available from China, which is on a week-long holiday for Chinese New Year.
| US warships to sail again near man-made Chinese islands