John Kerry in China, says need solution in South China Sea
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi approach to shake hands after attending a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China January 27, 2016. Reuters

China pushed the US back on South China Sea, saying it has the right to defend its territorial sovereignty in the disputed waters.

During a meeting with the visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asserted China's claims on the disputed waters and said Beijing and Washington should manage the issue in a constructive way.

Kerry told his counterpart both powers should find a way forward on North Korea nuclear issue and the situation in South China Sea, Reuters reported.

On his two-day visit to China Kerry has pushed for more action on North Korea from Beijing. Though China is North Korea's staunchest ally, it has criticised Pyongyang for the recent nuclear test.

Kerry said the nuclear agenda of North Korea was a threat to the world and asked for more actions from China.

"One is the nuclear program of the DPRK, North Korea, a major challenge to global security, one of the most important issues for the security of the United States of America," Kerry said.

The territorial dispute in the South China Sea, which has flared in recent times, was also on the agenda, with Kerry saying the two countries should make progress in this issue.

The centuries-old conflict in South China Sea conflict is essentially a tussle over ocean territory.

Turf war in South China Sea

China lays claim to almost the whole of the South China Sea saying these were integral part of the empire from ages. In 1947 China formalised the claims by issuing a map showing the islands in its territory. But Vietnam has contested China's claims saying its rule over Paracels and Spratlys dates back to the 17th century.

The smaller powers in the region with claims to South China Sea landmasses -- such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei -- see China as the biggest threat.

The US is increasingly getting involved in the region to offset China's rising presence there, making South China Sea dispute an irritant in Sino-American ties.

The mostly uninhabited islands in South China Sea are of crucial strategic importance to all countries in the region. The two major island chains -- the Paracels and the Spratlys -- are thought to harbour natural resources around them.

The sea is also a major trading route through which ship-borne trade worth $5 trillion passes every year.

For energy hungry China the sea routes in South China Sea are crucial as most of its imported oil flows through these routes.

Control over the territory allows Beijing to prevent the US from expanding its sphere of influence in the region.