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WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Friday pledged US support for Philippine efforts to upgrade its notoriously antiquated military and build a "minimum credible defense posture" for the archipelago.
Amid high tension between Beijing and Manila, Obama made the pledge even as he and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III urged a peaceful resolution of disputes on the South China Sea.
The Philippines, along with Vietnam, has been embroiled in increasingly bitter territorial disputes with China in the strategic waters, leading the Southeast Asian nations to step up ties with Washington.
Obama and Aquino "underscored the importance of the principles of ensuring freedom of navigation, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce," the statement said.
"They expressed firm support for a collaborative diplomatic process among claimants to resolve territorial disputes in a manner consistent with international law and without coercion or the use of force," it said.
Obama separately voiced support for efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to set a code of conduct with China on managing disputes in the South China Sea.
China has agreed in general to pursue a code of conduct but the rising power prefers to negotiate with each country individually instead of dealing with the unified bloc.