President Barack Obama called Tuesday for a halt to any new construction or militarization of Asia’s oceans and reaffirmed the U.S. right to operate freely in international areas.

Speaking at the close of a meeting with Southeast Asian leaders in California, Obama called for a “halt to reclamation, new construction and militarization” of Asia’s oceans, an indirect reference to China’s rapid construction in the South China Sea of air strips and ports that could have military uses.

Obama said the U.S. “will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows” and added that “we’ll support the right of our allies to do the same.”

The two-day meeting between the President and ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was the first on U.S. soil and meant to foster closer ties as Washington looks for ways to counter an increasingly assertive Beijing. It was also meant to cement a pillar of Obama’s foreign policy agenda in “rebalancing” resources and attention to the Asia Pacific.

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