Obama Puts South China Sea Back on Agenda at Summit

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VIENTIANE, Laos — President Barack Obama put the long-simmering dispute in the South China Sea front and center on the agenda at a regional summit Thursday as it became clear that most of the other leaders gathered in the Laotian capital were going to let China off with a mild rebuke over its territorial expansion in the resource-rich waters.

“We will continue to work to ensure that disputes are resolved peacefully, including in the South China Sea,” Obama said at a meeting with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

He said an international arbitration ruling on July 12 against China was binding and “helped to clarify maritime rights in the region.”

ASEAN held a separate meeting later Thursday with eight world powers, including China and the U.S, in a gathering known as the East Asia Summit. The participants were expected to let China off with a muted reprimand over its expansionist activities in South China Sea, according to a draft of their joint statement. The final version was not immediately released.

The U.S. has repeatedly expressed concern over Beijing’s actions in the resource-rich sea. Obama brought that up again.

Referring to the arbitration panel’s ruling that invalidated China’s territorial claims, Obama said, “I realize this raises tensions but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and regional stability.”

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