Beijing called for more dialogue to resolve the long-standing territorial disputes in the area after the Philippines sought help from the United States and Vietnam staged live-fire military exercises in a show of military strength.
“We will not resort to the use of force or the threat of force,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
“We hope relevant countries will do more for peace and stability in the region.”
Tensions between China and other rival claimants to the strategically vital South China Sea – home to two potentially oil-rich archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratlys – have escalated in recent weeks.
The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have expressed alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed waters, but Beijing has insisted it is committed to resolving the issue peacefully.
In Manila, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday his country needed help from longtime ally the United States in the increasingly tense maritime dispute.
“Of course they [China] are a superpower, they have more than 10 times our population. We do not want any hostilities to break out,” Mr Aquino told reporters when asked about recent Chinese actions in the disputed waters.
“Perhaps the presence of our treaty partners, the United States of America, ensures that all of us will have freedom of navigation [and] will conform to international law.”
The Philippines has accused China of undermining peace and stability in the region by sending naval vessels to intimidate Filipino fishermen and the crew of an oil exploration ship.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have competing claims to the Spratlys. Beijing and Hanoi are at odds over the Paracels.
The area has commercial shipping lanes that are vital for global trade.
Hong insisted Vietnam was to blame for the recent flare-up in the spat between Beijing and Hanoi, sparked by a confrontation last month between Chinese surveillance vessels and a Vietnamese oil survey ship.
“Some country took unilateral actions to impair China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and released groundless and irresponsible remarks with the attempt to expand and complicate the issue of the South China Seas,” Mr Hong said, in a thinly veiled reference to Hanoi.
“This is where the problem lies.”
He said China was willing to hold direct negotiations with the other nations making territorial claims within the framework of a code of conduct agreed to in 2002.
Mr Hong also urged nations not directly involved in the maritime disputes to “respect” the efforts of disputing nations to peacefully resolve the issue – perhaps a warning to Washington.
On Monday, US Senator Jim Webb urged Congress to condemn China’s recent behaviour, saying that Washington has been too weak-kneed on the South China Sea issue.