President Barack Obama has lashed out against China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea and has demanded Beijing cease its land reclamation in the disputed waters, which are among the busiest and most strategic in the world.
Obama expressed his sentiment during his visit to Apec, an economic summit in Manila, where Chinese President Xi Jinping and about 20 heads of state are meeting.
Obama’s comments came shortly after he met Wednesday with President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, which challenges China’s claim to land in the region and has taken the dispute to court.
Since 2013, Beijing has been aggressively turning submerged reefs in the region into artificial islands and making claim to surrounding waters. Although China officially says it has no intentions to militarize the islands, it has raised concern in the region over airstrips being built on these islands.
“We agree on the need for bold steps to lower tensions, including pledging to halt reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea,” Obama said.
After landing in Manila on Tuesday, Obama boarded a U.S.-donated Philippines navy frigate that navigates around the Spartly Islands – claimed by China and the Philippines.
“We have a treaty obligation, an iron-clad commitment to the defense of our ally The Philippines,” he said on board.
“My visit here underscored our shared commitment to the security of the waters of this region and to freedom of navigation.”
Obama also announced the transfer of two more vessels to The Philippines along with a $250 million package.
In recent weeks, the U.S. has been challenging China’s claims by sending Navy ships and even B52s to the South China Sea to enhance regional maritime security and ensure freedom of navigation and over space in the region..