Beijing is expanding tiny reefs in the flashpoint South China Sea into islands and topping some with military posts to reinforce its claims over the strategic waters, fanning fears of a conflict.
Ahead of the gathering hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that kicked off on today in Malaysia, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signalled no compromise.
"China has never believed that multilateral fora are the appropriate place for discussing specific bilateral disputes," Wang told reporters before travelling to Malaysia.
Attempts to bring the issue up are "counter-productive" and "heighten confrontation", he warned.
However US and Southeast Asian officials say the hot-button issue will be raised in Malaysia this week.
In his opening remarks today, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman took a swipe at Beijing's refusal to address the thorny issue with its neighbours at the talks.
"ASEAN can and should play a vital part in effecting an amicable settlement" on the South China Sea, he told fellow foreign ministers.
"Above all we must be seen to address this issue peacefully and cooperatively. We have made a positive start but we need to do more."
Beijing claims control over nearly all of the strategically important South China Sea, a key shipping route thought to hold rich oil and gas reserves.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei -all ASEAN members- also have various claims to the South China Sea, as does Taiwan.
Beijing has long insisted that disputes must be handled on a bilateral basis with rival claimants, rather than with a united bloc.