Subscribe

Obama, Southeast Asian leaders seek to settle region's maritime disputes

President Obama has been hosting leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in the US for the first time. The president told a news conference that disputes must be resolved by legal means.

  • close
    President Barack Obama gestures as he answers questions during a news conference following the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Tuesday.
    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

President Obama and the leaders of Southeast Asia called Tuesday for peaceful resolution of the region's maritime disputes as they concluded a summit in California.

Mr. Obama told a news conference that disputes must be resolved by legal means, including a case brought by the Philippines challenging China's sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea.

China has refused to take part in the proceedings, but Obama said parties to the UN law of the seas are obligated to respect the ruling, expected later this year.

Obama has been hosting 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in the US for the first time. That sends a subtle message to China that the US remains an important force in the region.

But the leaders' joint statement after two days of talks avoided direct reference to China, reflecting the careful path that ASEAN members tread in their diplomacy with the world powers.

"Any disputes between claimants must be resolved peacefully through legal means such as the upcoming arbitration ruling under the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas, which the parties are obligated to respect and abide by," Obama said.

The Philippines brought its case in 2013 after Beijing refused to withdraw its ships from a disputed shoal under a US-brokered deal. Despite China's refusal to participate, the arbitral tribunal based in The Hague has agreed to hear the case.

China says it has a historical right to virtually all of the South China Sea and has built seven artificial islands, some with airstrips, to assert its sovereignty. Taiwan and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines also claim land features in these potentially resource-rich waters, an important thoroughfare for international shipping.

Though not a claimant, the US has spoken out against China's conduct and has angered Beijing by sailing US Navy ships near some of the artificial islands to demonstrate freedom to sail there despite China's territorial claims.

Obama said the US will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and it will support the right of other countries to do the same.

The UShas long argued for the maritime rights issue to be resolved peacefully and is looking for ASEAN to take a unified stance on the issue.

The diverse group of countries includes governments that lean toward either Washington or Beijing. Only four ASEAN members are South China Sea claimants, leading to sometimes conflicting views on how to handle long-simmering rifts.

The US-ASEAN joint statement did not refer directly to the arbitration case brought by the Philippines, but it does urge "full respect for legal and diplomatic processes" in resolving disputes.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a working dinner of the leaders on Monday night that China's role in the region is expected to grow. Mr. Loong said China's larger presence will likely lead to occasional frictions, uncertainties and anxieties, including on the South China Sea, but these issues must be managed peacefully to preserve regional stability and security, the Singapore-based Channel News Asia reported.

The summit is the latest effort by Obama to deepen U.S. ties with the fast-growing economies of Southeast Asia – a commitment he described as "strong and enduring." Obama plans to visit Vietnam in May, and then in the fall, become the first USpresident to visit Laos.

Human rights activists have criticized Obama for hosting Southeast Asian leaders who have not come to power in free and fair elections. Obama said the US would continue to stand with those in the region looking to advance rule of law and good governance.

He encouraged the return of civilian rule in Thailand, a long-standing US ally, whose current prime minister came to power in a May 2014 military coup.

The leaders concluded the summit by posing for the traditional family photo on the plush lawn outside a historic residence at Sunnylands, the storied California desert estate where the talks were held. Sunnylands is also where Obama had his first formal meeting with China's current president, Xi Jinping, in 2013.

The leaders also discussed economic cooperation. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam are all members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade pact that is the main plank of Obama's outreach to Asia.

____

Pennington reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK