MANILA, Philippines - The government on Friday ruled out any more joint exploration with other claimant countries in the Reed Bank in the South China Sea, an area believed to have huge oil and gas deposits.
"The Reed Bank is not part of the Spratlys," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters, referring to a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea.
"What is ours is ours," del Rosario said, adding that the Reed Bank, about 80 nautical miles west of southwestern Palawan province, was within the country's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The Spratlys, also considered a rich fishing ground, are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.
Tension has risen in the area in recent weeks. Many Southeast Asian countries see an uptick in China's maritime activities as a sign Beijing is becoming increasingly assertive in pressing its claims.
Del Rosario is expected to discuss Manila's concerns during a trip to Beijing next week. He said China had intruded into Philippine territory seven to nine times since February.
The Philippines has been pushing for the peaceful settlement of overlapping claims in the South China Sea through a multilateral approach that won the support of the United States, which offered substantial military aid to enhance Manila's external defence capability.
Manila will get a reconditioned warship from Washington next month and plans to lease newer patrol vessels.
Del Rosario does not believe the tension in the disputed waters will lead to a war, saying claimant-states have diplomatic tools to avert a conflict.
Still, he said the launch of China's first aircraft carrier, which is expected soon, would bring "a new dimension" to the dispute.