Phnom Penh (Cambodia): Southeast Asian leaders on Wednesday pledged to step up efforts to resolve overlapping maritime disputes with China, at the end of a two-day summit which also focused on Myanmar and North Korea.
Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) "reaffirmed the importance" of a 10-year-old declaration on the conduct of the parties (DOC) pledging to promote peace and understanding in the disputed  area.
"We stressed the need to intensify efforts to ensure the effective and full implementation of the DOC based on the guidelines for the implementation of the DOC," the leaders said in a statement at the end of the two-day summit.
China and several ASEAN countries have rival claims to uninhabited islands in the sea, which is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons and straddles strategic shipping lanes vital to global trade.
The United States claims a "national interest" in keeping the sea open for trade and has recently stepped up military cooperation with the Philippines, one of the claimants, as part of its foreign policy "pivot" to Asia.
China has competing territorial claims in the sea with ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. US naval commanders have repeatedly said they are concerned about minor incidents, such as recent clashes over fishing rights and energy exploration near the uninhabited islands, blowing up into major regional conflicts.
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Cambodia on the eve of the summit in what many analysts took to be a form of pressure on Phnom Penh to use its chairmanship to slow down the South China Sea negotiations.
ASEAN has often been dismissed as a talking shop but it has assumed new strategic importance in light of the economic and military rise of China in recent years. In a step welcomed by some ASEAN members but which has irked China, the United States is deploying up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia. The first 200-odd of the Marines arrived in Darwin on Wednesday.