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Trump, Xi expected to discuss South China Sea

FILE - This combination of file photos shows U.S. President Donald Trump on March 28, 2017, in Washington, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 22, 2017, in Beijing. Trump is suggesting ahead of his two-day meeting starting Thursday, April 6, 2017 with Xi that with or without Beijing’s help, he can “totally” handle North Korea, but his solution would have to be pretty clever. AP/Files

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:30 p.m.) — Maritime issues will be among the hot button topics expected to be raised in the upcoming face-to-face meeting of United States President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida this week, a White House official said.

An unnamed US senior administration official said at a briefing in Washington on Tuesday that he would not be surprised if the South China Sea will be come up in the meeting between the two leaders.

"I do expect that maritime issues will come up. The United States certainly will continue to fly and sail where international law allows," the official said, according to a transcript released by the White House.

The US official noted that Trump was disturbed by the activities that took place in the disputed waters under the Obama administration.

"And he (Trump) and his Cabinet members have been on the record as saying that that has got to stop," the official said, referring to Chinese activities in the South China Sea.

Observers of Barack Obama's pivot to Asia have urged the Trump administration to draw a clear American policy on East Asia, which covers the Philippines. Trump, however, has pronounced an "America first" approach suggesting an end to the Obama-led rebalancing.

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Renato Cruz de Castro, De La Salle professor and trustee of think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, said that America's longstanding objectives in Asia should dictate Trump's policies, which are yet to take shape.

"Any foreign policy the Trump Administration will adopt toward Asia will still need to be guided by America’s historic goals in Asia: promoting free trade; and preventing the hegemonic ambition of a regional power that could threaten US political, economic, and strategic interests in the region," De Castro writes on Philstar.com.

Trump earlier tweeted that he expects "a very difficult" meeting with Xi in his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

RELATED: Trump-Xi meeting watched for clues of future relationship

Washington-based CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative recently reported that Beijing can now deploy military assets to the Spratly (Kalayaan) Islands in the South China Sea.

Recent satellite images showed that China is nearly finished with its infrastructures on the "Big Three"—Subi (Zamora), Mischief (Panganiban) and Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reefs.

The facilities in the three air bases would allow Beijing to deploy military assets including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers to the Spratly Islands at any time.

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