Philippines puts off South China Sea talks

Posted at 12/07/2012 6:55 PM | Updated as of 12/07/2012 6:56 PM

MANILA - The Philippines said Friday it had put off four-way talks due next week over rival claims to the South China Sea but downplayed suggestions the postponement was because of pressure from Beijing.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam had been scheduled to meet on Wednesday but China, which wants disputes settled bilaterally, had not been invited.

But Foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters: "It will not happen this coming December 12... because of scheduling problems. But the parties are working on" coming up with a new date.

He said he was unaware of any pressure being applied by Beijing to scuttle the Manila meeting.

The meeting of deputy foreign ministers had been part of Philippine efforts to push for a multilateral solution to the disputes.

China claims most of the sea including waters close to the shores of its neighbours.

Taiwan, like China, claims most of the sea, which includes some of the world's most important shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in fossil fuels.

Tensions have increased steadily over the past two years, with the Philippines and Vietnam accusing China of increasingly aggressive diplomatic tactics to stake its claims.

Relations between the Philippines and China have become particularly tense since patrol vessels by both countries engaged in a stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal in April.