South China Sea dispute
A Philippine Navy personnel stands in front of an Agusta Westland AW109 helicopter before it takes off during the bilateral maritime exercise between the Philippine Navy and U.S. Navy dubbed as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT 2014), aboard the Philippine Navy vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz in the South China Sea near waters claimed by Beijing, June 28, 2014. Getty Images/AFP/NOEL CELIS

The United States will maintain its presence in the disputed South China Sea and East China Sea region, President Barack Obama said Tuesday. He made the statement during his official visit to Laos.

“America’s treaty allies must know our commitment to your defense is a solemn obligation that will never waiver. And across the region, including in the East and South China seas, United States will continue to fly and sail and operate wherever international law allows and support the right of all countries to do the same,” Obama said.

China claims most of the South China Sea region through which about $5 trillion worth of maritime trade passes every year. Apart from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims over territory in the region. The U.S. and China both have accused one another of militarizing the disputed area.

Beijing has been reportedly building runways and ports on islands in the South China Sea. And, this aggressive nature of the world's second largest economy has drawn condemnation from its neighbors and the United States. Beijing, on its part, has maintained that it does not have any intention of starting a conflict and that its operations will in fact add to the safety of the region.

In the latest development, Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana reportedly said that several Chinese vessels were photographed being deployed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea close to the Philippine coast.

Lorenzana said that the Philippine Defense Department has secured pictures of four Chinese Coast Guard ships, and six other vessels, which were seen less than a mile from the shoal. It is likely that those vessels could be dredges to carry out initial building work, according to the minister.