Defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries meet online Tuesday to discuss hot-topic issues such as regional security and the South China Sea.

Sources familiar with the matter said China's recent incursions into territories of the member nations would be top of the agenda.

The meeting continues into Wednesday - with the group joined by counterparts from eight nations - including Japan, India, China and the U.S.

The expanded meeting is a unique opportunity to discuss political issues. The 10-member bloc is expected to act as a mediator Wednesday.

Sources said the first day will likely include talks over a planned Code of Conduct for how the nations will handle disputes in the South China Sea. Last week, ASEAN and China foreign ministers agreed to accelerate the implementation of a code - which was shelved after the pandemic hit.

The last time ASEAN defense ministers met was in December. Then they issued a joint statement stressing the importance of promoting "maritime security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight and creating an environment for peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea."

ASEAN encouraged nonmembers to practice "self-restraint" in aerial or maritime activities that might escalate disputes. The association didn't specify any countries.

Protests over China's incursions into ASEAN member territories have escalated in recent weeks. Earlier in June, Malaysia scrambled jets when it detected a fleet of China aircraft approaching its airspace. The Philippines lodged complaints over the presence of China vessels in its exclusive economic zone.