U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is urging China to halt increasingly assertive actions it is taking in the South China Sea.

Amid verbal sparring between Washington and Beijing over land reclamation projects that China is conducting in disputed waters, Kerry urged Chinese officials to reduce tensions in the South China Sea.

In response, China's foreign minister Wang Yi said his country was interested in dialogue on the matter but would not back down on defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity as they relate to its claims.

The claims have rattled the region where South China Sea islands and reefs are contested by China and five other Asian governments. The U.S. says it takes no position on the sovereignty claims but insists they must be negotiated.