US President Barack Obama delivered a fresh warning on Tuesday to China against using force to resolve territorial disputes, as he pledged “ironclad” military support for the Philippines.
On the final day of a four-nation Asian tour, Obama used an address to US and Filipino troops in Manila to voice concern over the increasingly tense maritime territorial rows between China and US allies in the region.
“We believe that nations and peoples have the right to live in security and peace, to have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected,” Obama said.
“We believe that international law must be upheld, that freedom of navigation must be preserved and commerce must not be impeded. We believe that disputes must be resolved peacefully and not by intimidation or force.”
Watch: Obama seeks to soothe China while boosting ties with Philippines
The Philippines has been embroiled in one of the highest-profile territorial disputes with China, over tiny islets, reefs and rocks in the South China Sea.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas, even waters and formations close to its neighbours.
The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has repeatedly called on longtime ally the United States for help as China has increased military and diplomatic pressure to take control of the contested areas.
The Philippines and the United States signed an agreement on Monday that will allow a greater US military presence on Filipino bases.
And Obama sought on Tuesday to reassure the Philippines that the United States would back its ally in the event of being attacked, citing a 1951 mutual defence treaty between the two nations.
“This treaty means our two nations pledge, and I am quoting, ‘our common determination to defend themselves from external armed attacks’,” Obama said.
“And no potential aggressor can be under the illusion that either of them stands alone. In other words our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad. The United States will keep that commitment because allies will never stand alone.”
Nevertheless, Obama did not specifically mention coming to the aid of the Philippines if there was a conflict over the contested South China Sea areas, as his hosts had hoped.
On the first leg of his Asian tour in Tokyo, Obama had made such a pledge of support to Japan, which is locked in another dispute with China over rival claims to islands in the East China Sea.