Brunei vowed to pursue a binding Code of Conduct among rival claimants of territories in the South China Sea as the oil-rich sultanate assumes the chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The region has been wracked by an increasingly assertive China which claims vast parts of the South China Sea, including territories claimed by several ASEAN members, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.

“Brunei sees this as a key threat to regional security and would like to resolve the issue through dialogue with all claimants, including China,” a foreign ministry told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The ASEAN has sought to adopt a regional code of conduct with China but failed to materialize after negotiations crumbled. Beijing also insisted on handling the dispute bilaterally with other claimants.

Cambodia, which previously chaired the regional body and considered to be a close China ally, was accused of resisting efforts by the Philippines and Vietnam to take a more aggressive position.

Simmering tensions have escalated as China continues to flex its military muscle and lay “excessive claims” over islands in the South China Sea – a crucial international shipping lane which carries half of the world’s total trade and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.