Malaysia's leader says Southeast Asian countries will avoid direct confrontation with China but will push for a quick conclusion to a binding code of conduct to govern behavior in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations' non-confrontational approach to the dispute has been effective in keeping tensions at bay. He said at an ASEAN leaders' summit that the bloc will pursue constructive engagement with China.

Najib indirectly rejected calls by the Philippines for ASEAN to stand up to China. Manila warned that Beijing was poised to take "de facto control" with its land reclamation in the area.

China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.