Foreign ministers from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were to meet Sunday in Vientiane, with the South China Sea dispute expected to dominate.
A July 12 ruling by an arbitration panel at The Hague invalidated China’s claims to most of the South China Sea. China has dismissed the ruling as null and void.
The 10 ASEAN members have failed to reach a unified response to the ruling, with key Chinese allies within the bloc preventing a consensus.
At the opening ceremony on Sunday, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith called for unity and continuation of the “ASEAN way.”
“I would like to reiterate that ASEAN should continue to maintain and enhance ASEAN…at a pace comfortable to all,” he said.
But diplomats have questioned whether the bloc was unified enough to pass any meaningful statements over the July 12 ruling.
China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner.
The ministers are to meet behind closed doors on Sunday. The meeting expands on Tuesday for the East Asia Summit when regional partners including China, Japan and the United States will join.