KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Ten Southeast Asian heads of state and nine world leaders, including President Barack Obama, are meeting in Malaysia to discuss trade and economic issues. Terrorism and disputes over the South China Sea are also on the agenda. (All times local.)
China says it has no intention to militarize the South China Sea, even though it has increased construction activities in the disputed area.
Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin has urged countries to "not deliberately stir up trouble" in the strategically vital area.
Liu was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an Asian summit on Sunday.
Liu reiterated China's position that the expansion was designed to "provide public service" to the region by helping ships and fishermen, as well as disaster relief efforts. He said this also included military facilities to protect the islands and reefs, which are located far from mainland China.
Concerns have been growing over the rapid appearance of islands created by piling sand atop reefs and atolls controlled by China, which is now adding harbors, air strips and large buildings. The U.S. and others have called on Beijing to halt those projects, saying they are destabilizing an increasingly militarized region.
President Barack Obama says relations between the U.S. and Singapore are strong and that the Asian nation is an excellent international partner.
Obama commented after a one-on-one meeting Sunday with Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong (lee shyehn loong), in Malaysia during a summit of Asian nations.
Obama says they discussed efforts to counter Islamic State extremists, the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact, climate change and tensions in the South China Sea.
Singapore is among the 12 countries that have signed on to the TPP trade agreement.
Lee says he told Obama that all countries in the region appreciate the president's pivot toward Asia and his regular visits.
Obama and Lee met as the American president wraps up a nine-day trip to Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says his country is honored to host an annual gathering of leaders from 18 Asia-Pacific countries including the United States and Russia.
Najib says he's also very encouraged that all members of the East Asia Summit have been actively involved since last year in strengthening the organization.
He says the EAS is a leading organization to promote a "rules-based order" in the region, which feels out-muscled and overwhelmed by China.
He adds that the group will encourage deeper dialogue on political and strategic issues to promote trust, saying "this could not come at a more critical time."
The prime minister commented Sunday as he opened the summit in Kuala Lumpur.
The leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations have formally created the ASEAN Economic Community at a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Eight years in the making, the AEC, as it is known, seeks to make the diverse region economically and politically better integrated with hopes of competing with the Asian powerhouses China and India.
Still, there is a long way to go before the AEC becomes fully functional after becoming a legal entity on Dec. 31. It falls short in more politically sensitive areas such as opening up agriculture, steel, auto production and other protected sectors.
There are also other hurdles, such as corruption, uneven infrastructure and unequal costs of transportation and shipping.