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Obama defends South China Sea ruling

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Vientiane, Sep 8 (IANS) US President Barack Obama on Thursday emphasised the “binding” nature of the July ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration over Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea after China rejected the verdict as null and void.

Obama’s statement came at the beginning of a bilateral meeting with Asean member nations, held on the sidelines of the three-day Asean summit in Laos that began on Tuesday, EFE news reported.

Obama stressed that the US will continue working with Asean to ensure peaceful resolution of these territorial disputes, keeping in mind the international tribunal’s verdict that favoured Manila and rejected China’s historical claims in the region.

“The landmark arbitration ruling in July, which is binding, helped clarify maritime rights in the region,” Obama told reporters.

“I recognise this raises tensions, but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and stability,” he added.

In recent years, the region has witnessed frequent clashes between coast guards and fishermen, as well as growing militarisation by China, which has been building military facilities on various islets.

A separate Asean-China meeting held on Wednesday saw Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announce Beijing’s willingness to work with the bloc to dispel interference — a reference to the US — and address the issues bilaterally.

Meanwhile, Obama also reiterated Washington’s desire to deepen cooperation with the ten-member group on issues, including climate change, development, and promotion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled against China’s historic claims in South China Sea, backing a case brought in by the Philippines in 2013.

The tribunal also said that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights and had caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment” by building artificial islands.

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