The ASEAN thus maintained its old position against directly contradicting China which has reclaimed several islands in the disputed sea, building runways and other installations.
The draft chairman's statement says the leaders were committed to peaceful resolution of disputes, "including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force".
The Asean group is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
"We can not stop China from doing its thing".
That was reflected in Sunday's watered-down communique, which three Philippine officials told The AP came at the request of Chinese diplomats in Manila.
The joint statement of ASEAN leaders, released early Sunday in the wake of the summit, was notably silent on China's defeat to the Philippines before the Hague-based arbitration court, which invalidated the basis of Beijing's sweeping claims over the South China Sea.
Duterte also vouched for the non-interference principle of the Asean region, a principle the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights criticised as an excuse by the region's governments in blocking human rights protections under worldwide law.
The phrase was retained in the statement, although it was moved out of the South China Sea section to one under "Asean Community Vision".
Opposition legislator Gary Alejano said that in the Asean Summit, China "won by convincing Duterte not to include any statement about the (international) ruling". The diplomats said four Asean member states had objected to it being omitted.
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The references to China's land reclamation and militarisation were part of previous ASEAN statements.
Officials are optimistic that the framework of the code of conduct for South China Sea claimants would be completed during the Philippines' chairmanship of the ASEAN.
Duterte, in a recent interview, had said there was no point pressing China to comply with the arbitral ruling and it was not an issue at the summit.
Ties between ASEAN and the West could become stronger and more productive "if we learn to respect each other's independence and treat each other as sovereign equals", Duterte said.
ASEAN leaders issued a statement that expressed grave concern about the situation on the Korean peninsula and urged all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and explore avenues for dialogue to solve the conflict.
Duterte also cited the need for the 10-nation bloc to address security issues, including terrorism and piracy, but made no mention of touchy South China Sea territorial rifts, which China did not want to be highlighted in the daylong talks.
Prime Minister Najib Razak hopes the more aggressive stand taken by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte against extremists such as the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines will improve the security in that region. It's part of the worldwide law.
As the leader of the more responsible country, Duterte said he was sure Trump was cautioning his military to "hang on there and not to start something which they can't control".
"But right now, the focus really is to concluding the negotiations on the framework for the Code of Conduct and it is to everyone's interest that we all have an effective Code of Conduct", he added.