WASHINGTON DC —
President Barack Obama took another implicit swipe at China's foreign policy Tuesday as he wrapped up a week-long, four-nation tour of Asia.
Speaking to U.S. and Philippine troops before departing Manila, President Obama repeated his administration's long-held stances on China's maritime disputes.
"We believe that all nations and peoples have the right to live in security and peace and have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected. We believe that international law must be held, that freedom of navigation must be preserved, and commerce must not be impeded. We believe that disputes must be resolved peacefully and not be intimidation or force," said Obama.
The comments, which did not mention China by name, come a day after Washington and Manila signed a new defense deal to expand the U.S. military presence in the Pacific nation.
Obama stressed that the U.S. commitment to defend the Philippines is "iron-clad." He cited a 1951 treaty in which both nations agreed to protect one another if attacked.
The closer military relationship is widely seen as a response to Beijing, which is involved in a worsening dispute with Manila over territory in the South China Sea.
VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez, who is traveling with Obama, said the deal represents one of the "high notes" of the president's trip.
"The United States was able to secure a defense agreement that brings back U.S. troops to the [Philippine] islands at their largest scale since the U.S. closed down its permanent bases more than two decades ago," said Ramirez.
Obama on Monday said the new security agreement is not meant to "counter" or "control" China, but this has done little to ease worries among many Chinese leaders.
That concern was expressed in several editorials in China's state-run newspapers, which though not official statements, often reflect the government's position.
The China Daily said Obama's trip shows it is "increasingly obvious that Washington is taking Beijing as an opponent." The paper accused the U.S. of "ganging up with troublemaker allies" and said it is presenting itself as a "security threat to China."
The official Xinhua news agency said Monday the U.S.-Philippine deal was "particularly disturbing," as it may embolden Manila in dealing with Beijing and could provide U.S. backing for the Philippines to "confront China."
The 10-year deal will allow a larger U.S. security presence in the islands and the rotation of U.S. troops and equipment, such as ships and fighter jets, into Philippine military bases. No new U.S. bases will be built and no old U.S. bases will be reclaimed under the deal.
Last week, Beijing was also angry that Obama signed a statement explicitly stating that a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea are covered in a mutual defense treaty with Japan. The treaty obliges the U.S. to come to the defense of Tokyo if attacked.
The Philippines and Japan are involved in two of the most heated territorial disputes between China and its neighbors. Other Asian countries also accuse China of using its rising military strength to intimidate, threaten, or take over disputed area from their forces.