U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has welcomed South East Asian leaders urging at a regional summit to resolve disputes with China on the South China Sea in line with international law.

“China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS [South China Sea] as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon,” Pompeo said in the tweet.

Vietnam and the Philippines warned at a summit held on June 26 of growing insecurity in Southeast Asia amid observations that China is stepping up its activity in the disputed South China Sea during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All participants of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit emphasized in a joint statement that regional and global issues must be resolved in accordance with “a rules-based regional and international order, anchored in international law.”

The ASEAN countries said that disputes should be settled “through peaceful means,” and that the resolution process should utilize legal and diplomatic means “without resorting to threat or use of force.”

In particular, ASEAN members reaffirmed that “peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation and over-flight above the South China Sea” should be maintained by adhering to international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as well as multilateral agreements and laws governing conduct in the South China Sea region.

The statement also stressed that the South China Sea region should not be militarized and that activities which will complicate or escalate disputes cannot be conducted in the region.

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