China is willing to "dispel interference" in the disputed South China Sea by working with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Premier Li Keqiang said at the regional summit in the Lao capital Vientiane.
The Foreign Ministry of China released a statement later on Wednesday about the meeting in which Li was paraphrased as saying China wants to work with ASEAN countries in "dispelling interference ... and properly handling the South China Sea issue".
Li did not elaborate much on this, but such wording is typically used by Chinese leaders "to refer to not allowing countries from outside the region with no direct involvement in the dispute, like the United States, from getting involved".
He said the situation in the South China Sea is moving towards a positive direction with joint efforts from China and ASEAN members. According to him, peace and stability in the disputed waters were related to prosperity and development of countries in the region.
"Countries in the region are the biggest beneficiaries of peace in the South China Sea. History and facts have repeatedly shown that the South China Sea can only be peaceful and stable so long as the regional countries themselves get hold of the key to fixing the problems," Li told Reuters.
The officials said the talks between Li and the Southeast Asian leaders went quite smoothly, although they said that there was no reference to the July tribunal ruling in The Hague that invalidated China's vast territorial claims on almost the entire waterway of South China Sea.
Apart from China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea which allows more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually.
On Wednesday, The Philippines expressed "grave concern" regarding the increasing number of Chinese boats near the disputed Shoal island in the South China Sea, shattering an appearance of cordiality at the summit.
A couple of hours before the meeting, the Philippines' defence ministry released photographs and a map spotting the Chinese vessels near Scarborough Shoal.