Asia’s maritime disputes will take center stage at next week’s meetings between the region’s leaders as nations seek the US’ presence to counter an aggressive China.

US President Barack Obama, who is set to visit to the region, is expected to reinforce a policy to assert the military superpower’s so-called “pivot” to the Pacific.

“Beijing’s renewed assertiveness over its sovereignty claims… has unnerved many countries in the Asia-Pacific region. They will be looking to the United States for strategic reassurance,” Ian Storey, a regional security analyst with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, told AFP.

Mr. Obama claims that the shift to the Asia Pacific is not specifically aimed at containing China, reiterating its fundamental interest in freedom of navigation. But Washington will assert itself as a Pacific power while seeking allies in the region amid a ‘rising’ China.

China insists it has sovereignty rights to nearly all of the waters around its shores and has grown increasingly aggressive over its claims as it expands its military might. ASEAN members have tried to agree a code of conduct with China to resolve the row but largely failed to make progress. Meanwhile, relations between Beijing and Tokyo took a turn for the worse following Japan’s nationalization of the islands, which ignited widespread anti-Japanese protests in China.

Mr. Obama will be attending the annual summit of ASEAN followed by the East Asian Summit in the Cambodian capital. The US president will also make a historic visit to Myanmar.