The Philippines and three other Southeast Asian countries will meet next month to discuss territorial claims in the South China Sea as well as the role of China, which declares the entire area as its own, the country's top diplomat said Wednesday.
There is no specific agenda yet for the Dec. 12 meeting in Manila with Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
The vice-ministerial level meeting goes against Beijing's approach of trying to settle the conflicts bilaterally, and is a step outside the confines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes all four countries as well as several others close to China.
"What we are trying to do here is we are trying to demonstrate that we can endeavor to discuss (the territorial conflict) ... and we are willing to do this either within ASEAN or outside of ASEAN," del Rosario said.
The 10-member bloc concluded its annual summit on Monday without reaching any consensus on the maritime disputes.
China claims the entire South China Sea region, including the Spratly Islands, which are believed to sit atop rich oil and gas deposits and straddle one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
The four countries claim parts of the region. China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle in the 1980s in the Spratlys.
Manila's claims include the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground west of its main island of Luzon. Chinese and Filipino ships were locked in a tense standoff at the shoal earlier this year after the Philippine navy accosted Chinese fishermen there.
"We view the situation in the South China Sea as being a threat to the stability and security in the region ... we believe this is not a bilateral issue, it is not even a regional issue. It is an international issue," del Rosario said.