WASHINGTON - The United States has warned against any attempt to “divide and conquer” in the tense South China Sea, and voiced hope that Beijing and Southeast Asian nations would reach an accord this year.

Several Southeast Asian nations have accused China of aggravating friction in the South China Sea, but foreign ministers from the 10-nation ASEAN bloc failed at a meeting last month to reach an agreement on the way forward.

China, which claims sovereignty over virtually the entire sea, has favored individual talks with each nation over disputes. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated that the United States preferred a deal that included every country with claims in the South China Sea.  “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,” Nuland told reporters, without explicitly naming China. “What we’re most concerned about at the moment is that tensions are going up among the stakeholders. So we want to see a commitment to a deal that meets the needs of all,” she said.