Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the ministers were divided over a USA proposal to suspend the North from the ASEAN Regional Forum, which will hold its annual meeting on Monday.
North Korea, which has maintained close relations with ASEAN, had earlier sought support from ASEAN countries in its row with the U.S. to prevent a "nuclear holocaust".
In view of this positive momentum, they reaffirmed their readiness to begin the substantive negotiation on the COC. Vietnam is on its own to have stronger language on the South China Sea.
She also said the onus was on all countries to maintain regional peace and stability and respect global law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Robespierre L. Bolivar, in a press briefing also after the meeting, confirmed that the ministers had agreed on taking three steps following the adoption of the framework. He did not mention any preconditions.
ASEAN countries have argued that is hard since its members do not have substantive ties with North Korea.
ASEAN expressed "serious concern" in that text, and "emphasised the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in all activities, including land reclamation".
The framework papers over the big differences between ASEAN nations and China, said Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security.
That action, along with his years of denunciations of the trading policies of Japan and China and a promised "America First" pivot, seemed to many in the region to represent a significant retreat by the United States from its military and economic engagement here, and an important victory for China.
ASEAN failed to issue the customary statement on Saturday, over what diplomats said was disagreement about whether to make oblique references to China's rapid expansion of its defense capabilities on artificial islands in disputed waters.
The foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations said they warmly welcomed "improving cooperation" with China and were encouraged "by the conclusion and adoption of the framework of a code of conduct in the South China Sea", in a joint communique.
While Asean foreign ministers emphasized the importance of non-militarization on their communique, there was no direct mention of China and its reported fortification of features in the contested waters in the document.
A Southeast Asian diplomat said Sunday that Vietnam had pushed for stronger language despite opposition from numerous ministers, whose countries rely heavily on China for trade and investment.
"When the conditions are right, then we can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so they feel secure and prosper economically", Tillerson told reporters. An unwieldy bloc of democracies, monarchies and authoritarian regimes, the regional grouping decides by consensus, meaning just one member state can shoot down any proposal.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a door open for dialogue with North Korea on Monday, saying Washington was willing to talk to Pyongyang if it halted a series of recent missile test launches.
The code of conduct framework was useful to build confidence, said Philippine security expert Rommel Banlaoi, but was not enough to manage and prevent conflict in the South China Sea.
"Sanctions are needed, but by no means the ultimate goal", Wang, who was in Manila for the talks with the ASEAN ministers, said in a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry's website.