Southeast Asian leaders on Sunday pressed their call for self-restraint in the disputed South China Sea after a new incident in the Philippines, and renewed their alarm over the US-China trade war . The long-raging territorial conflicts and the protracted dispute between the two global economic powerhouses were high on the agenda in the final day of meetings in Thailand between leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( Asean ). The diverse 10-nation bloc, founded in 1967 in Bangkok in the cold war era, lumps together an absolute monarchy and constitutional monarchies, along with socialist republics and fledgling democracies. Leaders meet in a summit which member nations take turns to hold each year. Facing regional predicaments such as the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar , the leaders took the stage and clasped their hands together in a trademark Asean handshake to project unity. This year’s host, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, opened the summit with a call for regional unity and a push for Asean to conclude a massive free trade pact with China and five other Asia-Pacific nations to cushion any impact from the United States ’ trade conflicts with China. “The winds of protectionism that are battering the multilateral system remind us that we must hang on ever stronger to one another,” Prayuth said. The US, which has pursued bilateral deals over multi-nation trade accords under President Donald Trump , is not included in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which Prayuth said would encompass the world’s largest free-trade region. The US and China must both take the high road and resolve their differences before the situation spirals out of control. Rodrigo Duterte Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told other leaders on Saturday the trade conflict between Washington and Beijing “is creating uncertainty. It is taking a toll on global growth and it could hinder the ongoing processes of economic integration”. “The US and China must both take the high road and resolve their differences before the situation spirals out of control,” the usually blunt Duterte said. In their public communiques, the leaders have avoided naming the US and China or specific nations embroiled in controversial issues in a show of their conservative protocols. The leaders, however, could raise thorny issues in a closed-door and informal session. Filipinos burn Chinese flags after Duterte’s ‘weak’ response to boat sinking Duterte has said he would raise the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea following the June 9 sinking of an anchored Philippine boat by a larger Chinese fishing vessel in the disputed Reed Bank. The incident sparked an outcry and condemnations in the Philippines after the Chinese crew sailed away, while the fishing boat sank at night and its Filipino crew remained stranded in the water. The crew was later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel. Known for his close ties with China, Duterte has backed Beijing’s initial assertion that the collision was accidental. He mocked calls for him to immediately take drastic actions and agreed to a joint investigation of the Reed Bank incident with China, which critics have opposed. In a statement outlining their regional policies, the leaders on Sunday renewed their call for countries involved in the territorial spats to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law”. Four Asean states – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – are among six governments locked in the disputes over the strategic waterway aside from China and Taiwan. Asean leaders show support for China-led regional trade pact Asean has been in talks with China to negotiate a non-aggression pact called the “code of conduct” to prevent major armed clashes in the offshore region, which has long been regarded as an Asian flashpoint. Southeast Asian diplomats have said that the first of three rounds of talks on the proposed pact was expected to be completed this year. The more difficult aspects, including whether the pact should be legally binding and cover the entire disputed region, have been relegated to the final rounds so as not to stall the talks early on. Malaysia calls for justice over Rohingya refugee crisis Asean leaders also reaffirmed their support for a “more visible and enhanced role” of the bloc to support Myanmar in the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims who fled their villages in its western state of Rakhine, according to a statement issued on Sunday. The leaders pledged their continued backing of “Myanmar’s commitment to ensure safety and security for all communities in Rakhine State as effectively as possible and facilitate the voluntary return of displaced persons in a safe, secure and dignified manner”, said a chairman’s statement released after their summit in Bangkok. More than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Rakhine since the military launched a harsh crackdown there in August 2017 in the wake of attacks on security posts by militants of the minority ethnic group. Their repatriation from sprawling camps in neighbouring Bangladesh has been delayed as they are not confident in their safety after returning home. Summit host Prayuth Chan-ocha did not mention the Rohingya humanitarian crisis at a post-summit press conference. Bangladesh tells UN it cannot accept any more Rohingya refugees However, Asean diplomats said the leaders at their retreat on Sunday exchanged views on the issue, in particular on the safe repatriation of the Rohingya. State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi told her counterparts the Rohingya issue was a complicated one, and the Myanmar government was seeking solutions, according to a diplomatic source. She also expressed appreciation for efforts being made by the Asean Secretary General and the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance to assess the needs of the refugees. Both Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo demanded the security of returning Rohingya be guaranteed, according to the diplomats. Banned from Bangladesh schools, Rohingya are exposed to extremism “The issue of security has become key to the implementation of repatriation,” said Jokowi, leader of the world’s biggest Muslim nation. “Without security guarantee, the repatriation will never happen.” Although the bloc has a policy of non-interference in members’ internal affairs, the Rohingya issue has been fixed on the agenda of relevant meetings since 2017. Asean’s statement did not openly criticise Myanmar’s government, and in line with such statements in the past, it also complied with Myanmar’s preference to avoid the term “Rohingyas”, referring to them instead as “displaced persons”.