The group together with China signed in 2002 a non-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) but the document failed to prevent conflicts as most of claimants, notably China, built facilities on islands and features in the sea, which facilitated militarisation.
The 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reiterated in a joint statement Saturday their grave concerns over the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to the North's two ICBM tests last month, saying the launches threaten world stability.
Cambodia, one of China's strongest allies within Asean, has firmly resisted, according to the diplomats involved in the talks in Manila, as well as an excerpt of proposed Cambodian resolution obtained by AFP on Sunday.
"We recognised the benefits that would be gained from having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity", it added.
Four members of Asean - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - have been at loggerheads with China for decades over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
In celebration of Association of Southeast Asian Nations' 50th anniversary, airline firm Air Asia unveiled promo fares to all destinations across its regional network.
Jay Batongbacal, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of the Philippines, told news channel ANC the adoption of the framework gave China "the absolute upper hand" in terms of strategy, because it will be able to decide when the negotiating process can start. China ignored the ruling.
A joint statement released later that day "called on China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal's 2016 Award in the Philippines-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties".
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has shifted to warmer relations with China.
"The ministers further urged ASEAN member states and China to ensure that the COC be finalized in a timely manner, and that it be legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with global law", the joint statement read.
This, even as Japan, along with Australia and the United States, raised the issues on the South China Sea and North Korea's nuclear weapons program during the seventh ministerial meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD) here.
The ASEAN ministers failed to release the joint statement as expected after meeting on Saturday due to their differences on the sea issue, with Vietnam pushing for tougher language and Cambodia lobbying hard for China.
China claims almost all of the strategically vital and resource-rich waters, despite overlapping claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Rocks and reefs were transformed into artificial islands with military like installations complete with runways.
ASEAN ministers said in a communique Sunday they "warmly welcome improving cooperation" with China and are ready to begin substantive negotiation on the code of conduct, but made no mention of making it binding.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said he preferred a legally-binding agreement, which other countries, like Vietnam, supported.
It is hoped this will facilitate work for the conclusion of an effective COC on a mutually agreed timeline.