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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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US Military Forces to Stay in Disputed South China Sea: US President Obama

US Military Forces to Stay in Disputed South China Sea--President Barack Obama

(Photo : Getty Images) US President Barack Obama has told Southeast Asian leaders that the US would continue its naval operations in the disputed South China Sea to protect their rights to the contested area.

United States President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the US is not about to leave the disputed South China Sea despite warnings from China. Obama said the presence of the US military in the area is aimed at upholding the navigation rights of other nations in the disputed area, adding that they would be there for as long as international law allows.

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At the recently-concluded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit held in Laos, Obama made it clear that the US would continue to stand with the people of the South China Sea region and ensure that their rights to the disputed sea are not violated.

"I reiterated that the United States will stand with allies and partners in upholding fundamental interests, among them the freedom of navigation and overflight, lawful commerce that is not impeded, and peaceful resolution of disputes," Obama said.

Arbitration court ruling

Obama said the organization highlighted the importance of the recent ruling of an international arbitration court rejecting China's claims to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea. He noted that the US would continue to ensure that countries laying claims to the disputed region would not militarize and occupy uninhabited islands.

The US leader also reiterated during the summit that China could no longer ignore that the United Nations-backed court's ruling is "binding" and "helped to clarify maritime rights in the region."

"The landmark arbitration ruling in July, which is binding, helped to clarify maritime rights in the region," Obama told Southeast Asian leaders.

In reaction to Obama's statements that the ruling is legally "binding," Beijing said the US is in no position to issue such a statement considering that it is not a party to the ongoing dispute.

Military confrontation

"We hope the US can take an objective and just attitude with respect to South China Sea issues," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.

The dispute has raised fears of a potential military confrontation between the world's two superpowers with China determined to take control of the strategic waterway despite the arbitration court's ruling.

"I recognize this (dispute) raises tensions, but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and stability," Hua added.

The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 12 said China had no legal basis to claim a large percentage of the territories in the South China Sea. Around $5 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes through the international waterway each year.

US defense and military officials have said that China's building of artificial islands in the disputed sea to bolster its claims is "illegal."

Besides China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei--all part of the 10-member ASEAN bloc--have competing claims in the South China Sea.

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