ASEAN leaders eye S. China Sea row, Syria, N. Korea

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in Brunei on Wednesday, focusing on ways to address territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, the civil war in Syria and North Korea's nuclear programs.

The leaders will also discuss advancing ASEAN's regional integration to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, according to delegates.

The summit comes after the 10-member bloc and China started negotiations in September on a legally binding code of conduct aimed at reducing territorial and maritime conflicts in the South China Sea, a potential flashpoint that threatens to destabilize the region.

The ASEAN leaders are expected to call for advancing talks with China for the creation of an effective COC at an early date.

"We looked forward to intensifying official consultations with China on the development of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea with a view to its early conclusion," according to a draft of the chairman's statement to be issued after the summit.

"We also looked forward to developing the idea of establishing hotlines of communication to respond to emergency situations at sea and cooperate in the area of search and rescue for vessels in distress at sea as part of an 'early harvest' package for the COC," says the draft, a copy of which was obtained by Kyodo News. "The COC will serve to enhance peace, stability and prosperity in the region."

China, however, has maintained that territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved bilaterally among claimant states.

Beijing's robust moves to stake its claims to the Spratly Islands and other territories in the disputed sea -- which has some of the world's busiest shipping routes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas -- puts it at odds with some ASEAN members, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.

Later Wednesday, the ASEAN leaders will hold a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the 18-member East Asia Summit slated for Thursday in Bandar Seri Begawan.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.