U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday told a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders that territorial claimants to waters in the South China Sea should avoid militarising the issue and cease any building of artificial islands.
“For the sake of regional stability the claimants should halt reclamation, construction and militarisation of disputed areas,” Obama said at a meeting between the United States and leaders of the 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
China insists it has “undisputed sovereignty” over most of the South China Sea, a claim that overlaps with four ASEAN countries. China has been transforming reefs in the Spratly archipelago into artificial islands and has built airfields and other facililties on them. This has caused ripples of alarm in much of East Asia about China’s intentions and freedom of navigation in a waterway through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually.
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