Kerry critical of South China Sea militarization ahead of talks

By Arshad Mohammed and Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The militarization of facilities in the South China Sea does not help resolve maritime claims there, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said before he was to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday. On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry struck a combative tone ahead of Wang's visit by saying China's South China Sea military deployments are no different from U.S. deployments on Hawaii. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. The United States is "encouraging the peaceful resolution of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea – a goal that is definitely not helped by the militarization of facilities in that region," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The United States last week accused China of raising tensions in the South China Sea by its apparent deployment of surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island, a move China has neither confirmed nor denied. Asked whether the South China Sea and the missiles would come up when Wang meets Kerry, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Washington should not use the issue of military facilities on the islands as a "pretext to make a fuss." Kerry and Wang are due to meet at 2 p.m. (1900 GMT). The United States and China appear close to an agreement on another issue, the shape of a U.N. Security Council resolution against North Korea for carrying out its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, Kerry said. China and the United States have not entirely seen eye to eye on how strong the response should be to North Korea since the nuclear test, with Washington urging harsh punitive measures and Beijing emphasizing dialogue. China, North Korea's most important ally and largest trading partner, has historically been reluctant to put undue pressure on its southern neighbor for fear of destabilizing the country and unleashing a flood of refugees across their border. "We are on the verge of having an agreement, hopefully, with China," Kerry said. "We have made progress in the negotiation in New York in coming up with a substantial and improved U.N. Security Council resolution." (Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Susan Heavey and Jonathan Oatis)