President Barack Obama said today he had no desire to contain or counter China despite clinching a defence pact with the Philippines which will inject US forces close to the volatile South China Sea.
In the Philippines on the final leg of an Asian tour, Obama directly addressed leaders in Beijing, telling them that maritime territorial disputes needed to be addressed peacefully, not with "intimidation or coercion."
China's claims to various islands, reefs and atolls in the South and East China Sea have been a constant theme of Obama's tour of countries which fear being squeezed by the giant nation's emergence as a regional superpower.
Obama faced a delicate task in Manila as he sought to reassure an ally concerned about an increasingly assertive China, but to avoid worsening tense Sino-US ties by antagonising leaders in Beijing.
"We welcome China's peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China," Obama said at a press conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino.
"Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China," Obama said, taking on suspicions in Beijing that his policy of rebalancing power towards the Asia-Pacific was tantamount to encirclement.
The US leader said that Washington did not take a position on the sovereignty of disputed territories variously claimed by China, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam.
But he said that, as an Asia-Pacific nation, the United States was interested in the freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
"As a matter of international law and international norms, we don't think coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes."
Obama strongly backed Aquino's bid to take his country's territorial disputes with China -- including over the Second Thomas Shoal, an outpost in the Spratly Islands -- to international arbitration -- a step Beijing opposes.