“Freedom of navigation requires that people observe basic conduct about ‘this far off, your territory is your territory, after that, it’s international waters,’” President Obama said about efforts by neighboring countries to reclaim land in the South China Sea.

“If there’s a dispute, then there’s international mechanisms to adjudicate that dispute,” Obama said in response to a question from a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) fellow at a June 1 White House event.

Southeast Asian countries have experienced relative peace and security, freedom of commerce and freedom of navigation in recent decades, the president said.

“If you start losing that approach and suddenly conflicts arise and claims are made based on how big the country is or how powerful its navy is instead of based on law, then I think Asia will be less prosperous and the Pacific region will be less prosperous.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter sits next to Ho Ching, right, wife of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at the Shangri-la Dialogue on May 29. (© AP Images)

Despite protests by other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, China and Vietnam are reclaiming land among the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said all Asia-Pacific nations “have a fundamental stake in the security of the South China Sea” at a recent meeting with defense leaders from the region.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarization, as well as the potential for these activities … to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states,” Carter said in Singapore May 30.

The defense secretary, asserting there is no military solution to South China Sea disputes, called for renewed diplomacy to find a solution that protects the rights and interests of all concerned.

“It’s important for the region to understand that America is going to remain engaged … continue to stand up for international law and universal principles,” Carter said. “And help provide security and stability in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.”