Obama airs concern on sea row at UN

US President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON – Three days after calling out China over its land reclamation and militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea, US President Barack Obama voiced his concern yet again before the United Nations and urged a resolution of the problem “through international law, not the law of force.”

The United States does not adjudicate claims, he said, but has an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce and will defend these principles while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly in New York, Obama spoke of the many challenges facing the world, including the Islamic State (IS) which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and the Syrian civil war, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the South China Sea.

“As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning. I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had talks with Obama at the White House on Friday while on a state visit to the US, noticeably did not mention China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea in his own UN speech.

In what was seen as an oblique attempt to assuage the fears of neighbors about China’s rising military might, Xi said no matter how strong China became it will “never pursue hegemony, expansion or spheres of influence.”

All nations “big, strong and rich should not bully the small, weak and poor,” he said.

He said his vision of a new world order called for countries to seek “partnerships rather than alliances.”

Last Friday Xi told Obama that islands in the South China Sea have been Chinese territory “since ancient times” and that China has the right to uphold its own territorial sovereignty and lawful legitimate maritime rights and interests.