The US has called for ''cooler heads to prevail'' as tension intensifies between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
China sent two patrol ships to Diaoyu islands on Tuesday.
This came after Japan sealed a deal to buy three of the islands from a private Japanese owner.
Washington will not take sides in the matter, said Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.
The region, he said, was the ''cockpit of the global economy'' and it was ''of utmost importance'' that peace and stability be maintained.
''The stakes could not be bigger and the desire is to have all leaders to keep that squarely in mind,'' he said, in answer to questions at a debate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Mr Campbell is America's top diplomat on East Asia.