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Obama Tells China: Don’t Elbow Philippines, Vietnam Aside

US President Barack Obama, on a speaking engagement in Kingston, Jamaica Thursday, warned that China shouldn’t “elbow aside” the Philippines and other countries it is in conflict with in the South China Sea, Agence France-Presse reported.

While welcoming China’s strong economy and global reach, Obama expressed concern over its aggressive construction efforts in the disputed sea.

“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, and that is the concern we have around maritime issues,” Obama replied to a question about the South China Sea.

“Just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside.”

Obama made his comments as the US warned that China’s expansion efforts in disputed islands in the South China Sea are a threat to regional stability.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters that China’s land reclamation and the construction activity are fueling greater anxiety within the region as revealed by the latest satellite images showing the Chinese expanding reefs in disputed waters to presumably strengthen its territorial claims.

Rathke said Washington is concerned that China “might militarize outposts on disputed land features of the South China Sea.”

“So we are watching these developments closely and we continue to raise our concerns with China as well as with others in the region to urge all parties to avoid destabilizing activities,” he added.

Meanwhile, Obama said diplomatic dialogue is the best way to address the South China Sea dispute. He was careful to emphasize that despite disputes with Beijing, China’s economic power plays a positive role in the world welcoming global aid investments.

“We should be more fearful of a poor collapsing China than a China that is participating in the world marketplace,” he said.

While it has no claim of its own in the disputed regions, the United States supports its Asian allies against Chinese pressure and has stressed that freedom of navigation is in its national interest.

Besides China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have overlapping claims over the South China Sea.