Barack Obama urges halt to artificial islands in S.China Sea


BARACK OBAMA PHOTO/COURTESY
BARACK OBAMA PHOTO/COURTESY

President Barack Obama told a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders on Saturday (November 21) that territorial claimants to waters in the South China Sea should avoid militarising the issue and halt 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 facilities 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.

Obama said he commended ASEAN for working to create a code of conduct for the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, U.S. B-52 bombers flew near China’s artificial islands, signalling Washington’s determination to challenge Beijing over the disputed sea.

Obama also sought to talk about education exchange and work on counter terrorism in the meeting.

“We’ll have time to discuss hopefully some other issues education and scientific exchanges, the work we’re doing to counter extremism and terrorism. But our partnership I think is growing stronger, I look forward to have a very productive session here,” Obama said.

Obama’s view was echoed by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak who is the rotating host of this year’s ASEAN. He opened the weekend series of meetings by calling on world leaders to confront Islamist extremism. The “barbaric acts” of “terrorists” do not represent any race or religion, he declared.

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