PHNOM PENH - Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told Southeast Asian leaders Monday that negotiations to end territorial disputes in the South China Sea should only be held between claimant countries.
Wen stressed Beijing's position during a summit with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.
Qin said Wen quoted from a 2002 deal reached between ASEAN and China in which they agreed to limit negotiations to "directly concerned" countries.
Wen said that among the principles under the 10-year-old declaration is to "oppose the internationalization of the issue".
"So Premier Wen quoted the principles... enshrined in the declaration," according to Qin.
ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have claims to parts of the sea, which is also believed to be rich in fossil fuels.
But China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea.
Tensions have risen steadily over the past two years, with the Philippines and Vietnam accusing China of increasingly aggressive diplomatic tactics to stake its claims.
The Philippines has consistently sought wider help, such as from close ally the United States, in dealing with its more powerful Asian neighbor on the South China Sea issue.
The controversy of "internationalization" flared again in Phnom Penh this week with the Philippines insisting it should not have to confine its negotiations to just with China.
US President Barack Obama, who arrived in Phnom Penh on Monday night for an 18-nation East Asia Summit, was also expected to raise his concerns over the South China Sea, which would anger the Chinese but embolden the Philippines.