Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has given his assurance that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, will never be an issue.
He was speaking at the East Asia Summit in Brunei on Sunday, where he also said China would work with Asean member countries to make "positive, steady progress" in consultations on a code of conduct for the South China Sea "on the basis of consensus building".
The sea is the site of territorial disputes between China and four Asean member states, namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
"The freedom of navigation in the South China Sea has never been an issue and will never be one," Mr Li said.
Chinese and Asean senior officials launched official consultations on the COC last month.
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also spoke at the EAS, saying he looked forward to the early conclusion of the COC.
Noting that a third of global shipping passes through the South China Sea, Mr Lee said many countries therefore have an interest in peace and security as well as freedom of navigation through the sea.
"All states should encourage the peaceful resolution of disputes, and eschew use of force," he said.
Mr Li later said China and Asean have agreed that the disputes should be resolved peacefully through consultations and negotiations between the countries directly concerned.
He cautioned that countries not party to the dispute should not get involved. Citing an old Chinese saying, "Respect a man and he will respect you more", Mr Li said that further stability and development can be achieved only through mutual understanding and respect.