The United States and South-East Asian countries has called for "maritime security" but made no direct reference to China or the South China Sea, where Beijing has been pressing territorial disputes, after a summit yesterday hosted by US President Barack Obama.
The two-day meeting with leaders of the Asean at a California resort produced a joint statement declaring that the US and the 10 Asean members share a "commitment to maintain peace, security and stability in the region."
The leaders called for "unimpeded lawful maritime commerce" under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and urged "non-militarisation and self-restraint" by countries in the region.
Four Asean members have unresolved territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which has important shipping lanes and potential oil and other natural resources. China claims almost the entire sea, overlapping with those Asean countries, and the disputes have overshadowed recent gatherings of the bloc.
Obama ( photo ) later said that Washington's "rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, including Southeast Asia, will continue to be a foreign policy priority of my presidency."
He noted that he was slated to visit Vietnam in May and to become the first president to visit Laos, which hosts the East Asia Summit in September.
Obama said the US and Asean share a "strong commitment to a regional order, where international rules and norms and the rights of all nations, large and small, are upheld."
He said the leaders discussed "the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarisation of disputed areas."
Such allegations have been frequently directed at Beijing, though Obama made no direction mention of China.
"I reiterate that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same," he said.
Countering terrorist threats
The US will continue to "strengthen" the maritime capabilities of countries in the region, Obama said.
The last meeting of Asean defence ministers failed reach a statement on the South China Sea. All 10 members must agree to produce a statement.
Countering terrorist threats to the region, strengthening democracy in Asean countries and economic cooperation with the US were also addressed in the summit.
Myanmar's outgoing president, Thein Sein, sent a vice-president, after his party suffered an unexpectedly comprehensive defeat in the November elections.
Four of the countries attending are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) trade deal agreed last year, which Obama hopes to shepherd through Congress before he leaves office in January 2017.
The 10 countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - with a total population of 625 million launched the Asean Economic Community this year. The region's combined economy would be the seventh largest in the world.
The common market is meant to boost economic growth by lowering tariffs and allowing freer flows of capital, goods, services and skilled labour.