Malaysia's naval chief urged Beijing on Wednesday to respect the sovereignty of other claimants in disputed South China Sea waters as he and other Southeast Asian navy commanders discussed security after recent run-ins with China.
The gathering in Vietnam comes a week after a regional security meeting, where the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to a preliminary plan with China to peacefully resolve disputes over contested territory claimed all or in part by several Asian nations.
Vietnam's navy chief Nguyen Van Hien said during the opening remarks that the meeting comes as "security in the East Sea is extremely complicated," referring to the South China Sea by its Vietnamese name.
Vietnam and the Philippines have recently sparred with China, accusing it of interfering with their oil exploration activities in disputed waters. Beijing denies the allegations.
China says it has historical claims to the entire, potentially resource-rich sea, home to vital shipping lanes.
In the past, Beijing has pushed to handle disputes with its neighbors individually, but ASEAN has been trying to gain more leverage by getting the powerful Asian neighbor to address issues with all 10 members of the bloc. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have also laid claim to overlapping areas in the South China Sea.
"China is free to do anything," Malaysia's navy chief Tan Sri Abdul Aziz said on the meeting's sidelines. "But I would urge China to respect the sovereignty and integrity of the littoral states."
During the regional security meeting last week in Indonesia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton laid out specific guidelines for the peaceful settlement of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. She said the recent spats with China are threatening the security that has driven the region's economic growth.