China warned Southeast Asian nations on Tuesday against "hyping" a dispute over the South China Sea, as it voiced opposition to the row being discussed at a regional security forum.
As the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed forming a united position on the sensitive issue during a summit in Cambodia, China insisted the dispute should only be resolved directly between rival claimants.
"This South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and ASEAN, but between China and some ASEAN countries," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.
"Hyping the South China Sea issue... is against the common aspirations of the people and the main trends of the time to seek development and cooperation, and is an attempt to take China-ASEAN relations hostage."
China has expressed a willingness to discuss with the ASEAN bloc a potential South China Sea code of conduct aimed at reducing tensions.
But Liu said Beijing did not want the issue raised when ASEAN foreign ministers met their colleagues from China, the United States, Japan and other countries during the ASEAN Regional Forum starting in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
"The foreign minister's meeting at the ASEAN Regional Forum is an important platform for building mutual trust and enhancing cooperation, it is not the appropriate place to discuss the South China Sea issue," Liu said.
China claims essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Taiwan and ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims to the waters.
China recently angered Vietnam by inviting bids for exploration of oil blocks in contested waters. The Philippines has repeatedly accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim to the waters.
As tensions with China have risen, the Philippines and Vietnam have sought to shore up ties with the United States.