MANILA - US President Barack Obama heads to the Philippines Monday for the most complex leg of his Asian tour balancing act of reassuring allies wary of a rising China while avoiding antagonising Beijing.
Obama will land in Manila in the afternoon, hours after the allies signed a new defence agreement allowing more US troops and defence hardware to rotate through the Philippines, part of a US rebalancing of military power towards rising Asia.
Anti-China sentiments run high in the Philippines, which is locked in a showdown with the Asian giant over disputed atolls in the South China Sea, part of a proliferation of maritime hotspots that has stoked Asian tensions.
During an Asian tour that has taken him to Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, Obama has repeatedly warned that small nations should not be bullied by larger ones, a clear reference to China's increasingly sharp geopolitical elbows.
"Disputes need to be resolved peacefully, without intimidation or coercion, and... all nations must abide by international rules and international norms," Obama said in Malaysia Sunday.
That is also a message that has resonance in America's East-West showdown with Russia over Ukraine - a row to which Obama has had to return time and again during his Asian journey.