"We emphasised the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC [Declaration of Conduct] that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea", the Asean joint communique says.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also called on Beijing to abide by a 2016 worldwide tribunal ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
Beijing has refused to recognize the Philippines' landmark arbitration case, which ruled that China has no legal basis for its expansive ownership claims in the South China Sea.
Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to release a joint statement as scheduled on Saturday evening, and tense follow-up negotiations the next morning could still not end the stand-off, two diplomats involved in the talks told AFP.
China had always been perceived as delaying negotiations with ASEAN so it can undertake and complete construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea without being restricted by any maritime code.
Most ASEAN states, including the Philippines, back a legally binding code.
North Korea is expected to soon make an announcement on its position regarding the latest round of sanctions that passed at the United Nations Security Council. But Robespierre Bolivar, a spokesman from the Philippines foreign ministry, noted that geographical proximity to the Korean peninsula is the primary driver for ASEAN's involvement.
The ministers underscored the importance of upholding the rules-based order, called on all states to respect freedom of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the seas, and reiterated that the three countries will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever worldwide law allows.
ASEAN foreign ministers defied China's steadfast stance and overcame their own disagreements to issue a joint statement criticizing Beijing's land reclamation and military fortifications in the South China Sea.
The operation was aimed at affirming the right to passage and challenging what the US considers China's excessive territorial claims in the area.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a "sharp contrast" in perceptions this year between regional and non-regional countries, and the statement by Japan, the United States and Australia showed that.
The Global Times, an influential state-run Chinese tabloid, said in June that the once "special relationship" between the two nations was fading away amid mistrust over the South China Sea. "So it is all about how we see their attitude toward approaching a dialogue with us".
Ri's statement at the 24th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting was included in the document released to media.
Thornton says the USA wants to ensure that with the new sanctions, there's "not this kind of episodic back and forth that we've seen".style="text-align: center;"