China and ASEAN have agreed to hold fresh talks to upgrade their free trade area, as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged regional leaders not to let long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea sour their ever-closer economic ties.
The remarks by Mr Li, who is attending his first summit with South-east Asian leaders, came on a day when ASEAN's annual leadership powwow with the United States was reduced to a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry instead of President Barack Obama, who pulled out to deal with a budget crisis at home.
Mr Li, who marked the 10th anniversary of the strategic ASEAN- China partnership by cutting a cake with the other leaders, also mooted greater security and financial and maritime cooperation between the two sides.
"A peaceful South China Sea is a blessing for all, while a turbulent one benefits no one," he said at a convention centre 10km away from the South China Sea coast.
"We need to work together to make it a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation."
Mr Li's speech on Wednesday came two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed the Asian giant would be a force for peace and stability in the region in a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO Summit in Bali.
Both Mr Xi and Mr Li are on a charm offensive across five ASEAN countries these two weeks, with Mr Li moving on to state visits in Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam.