Senior American defense officials say divisions within Asia created by China's disputed claims to underwater islands in the South China Sea have spilled over to a meeting of Southeast Asian defense ministers that is being attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

The officials said Wednesday that China, which like the United States is not a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but was attending the meeting as an invited partner, was pushing to exclude from the meeting's final public statement any mention of the South China Sea.

China's claims in the South China Sea are disputed by several countries in the region, including Malaysia, which is hosting the meeting.

The U.S. defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations over the meeting's final statement were ongoing.