MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The U.S. defense chief has urged governments affected by China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea “to take a very public posture” and assert their sovereign rights, adding that acting collectively is the best way to send a message “to get China on the right path.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper raised concerns over China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed waters in a news conference Tuesday after meeting his Philippine counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana, in Manila.

Esper said most participants in an Asian defense meeting that he attended in Thailand this week were “very concerned about China’s excessive claims” and its lack of compliance with international laws and norms.

The disputes have long been a major point of contention between Washington and Beijing.

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