MANILA - China is looking forward to building a "shared future" with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as Beijing seeks to be a "good friend" and a "good partner" to its neighbors, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Monday.
"We are committed to working with ASEAN to build a community of shared future featuring common ideals, common prosperity and common responsibility," Li said in his opening statement at the ASEAN-China Summit here.
Li gave the statement prior to the expected announcement of the formal start of negotiations on a sea code that seeks to manage tensions in the South China Sea.
Four ASEAN members - the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam - have overlapping claims with China in the strategic waterway where about $3 billion in goods pass annually.
Despite a Hague ruling that invalidated China's sweeping claims in the disputed territory, Beijing has continued to build man-made islands capable of housing military-grade weapons systems in the contested waters.
Li made no mention of the South China Sea dispute, but said China was "committed to working with ASEAN to be good neighbors, good friends, and good partners and always stand together with ASEAN, rain or shine."
Li said China has the "most dynamic and the most substantive" relations with ASEAN among all its dialogue partners.
"China was the first to accede to the treaty of amity and cooperation in Southeast Asia... We are also the first to establish a strategic partnership with ASEAN, and the first to launch FTA (free trade agreement) negotiations with the organization," he said.
In August, ASEAN and China approved a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
ASEAN agreed to push for a legally binding code despite China's continuous opposition.
The regional bloc raised the issue of China's militarization during its meeting with the United States, a day after US President Donald Trump offered to mediate between claimant parties.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano did not directly answer when asked about Trump's offer.
"It is a very kind, generous offer because he is a good mediator. He is the master of the art of the deal. (But) claimant countries would have to answer as a group or individually and not one country can just give an instant reply," Cayetano said.