Published: Aug 14, 2012 3:16 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 15, 2012 6:30 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. says China should not use bilateral talks in an attempt to "divide and conquer" nations with competing territorial claims on the South China Sea.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland's comments Tuesday follow a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (yahng jay-uh-CHUR') to claimant states Malaysia and Brunei.

Last month, a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ended in acrimony on the matter.

Nuland urged the organization and China to work on a code of conduct for the area. She said bilateral diplomacy supporting a multilateral deal is fine, "but an effort to divide and conquer and end up with a competitive situation among the different claimants is not going to get where we need to go."