President Barack Obama says Washington is concerned China is using its "sheer size and muscle" to push aside smaller nations with claims to areas of the South China Sea.
Speaking at a town hall meeting during a visit to Jamaica Thursday, Obama said Washington is concerned that China is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules, forcing countries into subordinate positions.
China's rapid reclamation projects around reefs in the Spratly islands of the South China Sea have alarmed other claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
"We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn't mean that they can just be elbowed aside," said Obama.
President Obama said the U.S. does not have "a particular view on the territorial disputes," but just wants all sides to "use the mechanisms already in place internationally" to resolve them.
China defends its reclamation work on the disputed islands, saying it is conducting "construction and maintenance."
"The Chinese government's construction and maintenance on some parts of the Nansha (Spratly) islands is mainly to improve the related functions of the islands, improve the working and living standards of the stationed personnel, to better safeguard China's territorial and maritime sovereignty, to better fulfill China's search and rescue, disaster prevention, disaster relief, marine scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, safety of navigation, fishery production services, and the international obligations and responsibilities that we've undertaken. The relevant construction is a matter that is entirely within the scope of China's sovereignty. It is fair, reasonable, lawful, it does not affect and is not targeted against any country. It is beyond reproach,” said Hua.
U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters Thursday that officials worry that China might militarize reclaimed islands to strengthen its territorial claims on disputed areas.
On the other hand, Obama said that despite disputes with Beijing, China's economic power plays a positive role in the world and that the U.S. welcomes Chinese global aid investments.
Satellite images show China is likely building aircraft runways in what was jungle, and has been building ports and fuel storage depots.
"Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,'' Obama told a town-hall event in Jamaica on Thursday ahead of a Caribbean summit in Panama.
The Chinese explained that the recent projects were for civil uses, not military.
"This time for the construction of the reef, we are building civil functions and facilities, including shelters, aids for navigations, search and rescue as well as marine meteorological forecasting services, fishery services and other administrative services so as to provide the necessary services to China's neighboring countries and the individual vessels sailing the South China Sea,” explained Hua. "We note that there are individual countries that have stayed silent when some countries, for a long time, have been busy building installations on China's Nansha (Spratly) islands they illegally encroached, but then make irresponsible remarks on China's own normal activities on our own territory. These are completely double standards. It is not fair and not constructive. So we call on the parties concerned to effectively adhere to their promise of not taking sides on the South China Sea issue and do more for regional peace and stability.''