John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry boards a plane to depart New Delhi, India, on Aug. 1. Kerry will be focusing on Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with visits to Burma, Australia, the Solomon Islands and Hawaii. Pic: AP

NAYPYITAW, Burma (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Burma seeking to calm tensions in the South China Sea between China and its smaller neighbors.

Amid concerns about recent provocative steps taken by China and others regarding several disputed territories in the sea, Kerry arrived in Burma’s capital of Naypyitaw early Saturday for a Southeast Asian regional security forum at which the conflicting claims are expected to be high on the agenda.

U.S. officials with Kerry say he will be urging the Chinese and others to take voluntary steps to ease the mounting discord, which many fear could lead to conflict and hamper international shipping. The U.S. says it is neutral in the disputes, but China has reacted negatively to such calls on the past and is unlikely to respond favorably.