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President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that he and leaders of Southeast Asian countries meeting in a California summit discussed the need to ease tensions in the South China Sea, and agreed that any territorial disputes there should be resolved peacefully and through legal means.
“We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarisation of disputed areas,” Obama said at the end of the summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Not all the 10 ASEAN nations agree on how to handle the disputes and US officials want a statement calling for China to follow international law and handle disputes peacefully.
Obama said the group also discussed ways partners could work together to enhance security in the region, including cooperating on counter-terorism and the fight against Islamic State militants.
“I offered our assistance to help countries better leverage Interpol data to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters.”
While the meeting focused primarily on the South China Sea and issues of trade, Obama also weighed in on regional unrest.
“We continue to to encourage a return to civilian rule in Thailand,” Obama said.
Obama, who leaves office next year, has championed a foreign policy pivot to Asia during his presidency and is determined to present the United States as a Pacific power.
“I look forward to visiting Vietnam for the first time in May and becoming the first US president to visit Laos when it hosts the East Asia Summit in September.”
Vice President Nyan Tun represented Burma, after President Thein Sein pulled out of the California summit late last week.