Our goal is not to counter China – Obama

US President Barack Obama and Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III address a joint press conference in Malacanang

MANILA— After reaching a new defense pact with its treaty ally, President Barack Obama said on Monday that the United States does not intend to counter China’s perceived increasing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

In a televised joint press conference with President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang, Obama said their goal is to simply ensure that countries are operating in a peaceful and responsible manner

“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected and that includes in the area of maritime dispute,” Obama told reporters after holding an expanded bilateral meeting on Monday afternoon.

Obama, however, assured that the US is supportive of the Philippines’ move to bring the territorial dispute before an arbitration tribunal. He said this approach by the Philippine government is a “sound” one.

The American leader said the US is not taking a specific position on the territorial disputes between nations.

However, he said that as a matter of international law and international norms, Obama said coercion and intimidation is not the way to manage the overlapping territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Obama described the Philippines as a vital partner in maritime security and freedom of navigation.

“Today we reaffirm the importance of resolving territorial disputes in the region peacefully without intimidation or coercion,” Obama said.

He added that when the US has disputes with its neighbors, it works them out through dialogue.

“We don’t go around sending ships and threatening folks,” Obama said.

Aquino, on the other hand, assured that the Philippines does not post danger to any country, even if it has inked a new defense pact with the US.

The Filipino leader said China should not be concerned of the new defense deal.

“At the end of the day, we are not a threat militarily to any country. We don’t even have presently a single fighter aircraft in our inventory,” Aquino said.

Earlier today, the two countries signed a 10-year agreement allowing the increased presence of American troops in the Philippines, which will be provided with greater access to local military bases.

The new defense deal was signed while China continues to press its sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea.

Aquino said the agreement “takes our security cooperation to a higher level of engagement … and promotes regional peace and stability.”

Obama is on his two-day visit in the Philippines, the final leg of his four-nation Asian tour.

At each stop along his tour, Obama reaffirmed the US treaty commitments to defend its Asian allies, including in their territorial disputes with China.