Obama urges halt to island building in South China Sea

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with representatives from civil society organizations during a visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 21, 2015 on the sidelines of his participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. (AFP)

US President Barack Obama has called for an end to the construction of artificial islands in the disputed regions of the South China Sea.

Obama said on Saturday that countries should stop building artificial islands and militarizing their claims in the disputed South China Sea.

"For the sake of regional stability, the claimants should halt reclamation, construction and militarization of disputed areas," Obama told a meeting between US authorities and leaders of the 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

China stresses its sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, a claim that overlaps with four ASEAN countries. China has been transforming reefs in the Spratly archipelago into artificial islands and has built airfields and other facilities on them.

Some $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through the strategic waterway annually.

Obama said he commended ASEAN for working to create a code of conduct for the South China Sea "including the peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight."

Earlier this month, US B-52 bombers flew near China's artificial islands, prompting criticisms from Beijing which views such moves as provocations.

This aerial photograph taken from a military aircraft shows a territory in the Spratly islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, on May 11, 2015. (AFP)

More US Navy Moves Around China

Meanwhile, new reports suggest the US Navy will likely carry out another patrol within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands in the South China Sea before the end of the year.

The USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, last month sailed close to one of China's man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago.

A US defense official said this month the Navy planned two or more patrols a quarter in the region as part of its plan to regularly exercise its rights under international law and remind China and others about its view.

In a report published on the Chinese defense ministry's website on Thursday, China's top admiral, Wu Shengli, said his forces have shown "enormous restraint" in the face of US provocations in the South China Sea, while warning they stand ready to respond to repeated breaches of Chinese sovereignty.

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