MANILA - The Philippines on Friday said it has scrapped a planned Dec. 12 meeting among four ASEAN claimants -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- to disputed territory in the South China Sea.
"It will not happen this coming Dec. 12," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said, citing scheduling difficulties as the reason for the "postponement."
He suggested a four-way meeting might still be in the cards, saying, "The parties are working on it" and trying to come up with a "common schedule."
Diplomatic sources said Brunei and Malaysia have sent word that they could not make it to the meeting.
The Philippines, the most vocal among the ASEAN claimants, hatched the idea for the four-way meeting to hammer out a "common position" on how to deal with rival claimant China's growing assertiveness in pressing its claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
Manila argued that it would be "easier to forge an ASEAN position" on the issue if the four claimants were to first work out a common position among themselves.
Asked if China had anything to do with the "postponement" of the meeting, Hernandez said, "I don't want to speculate."
The Philippines initially hoped to hold the meeting among the foreign ministers of the four ASEAN claimants on the sidelines of last month's ASEAN summit meetings in Phnom Penh.
But Vietnam was cool to the idea, while Brunei and Malaysia were also reluctant as "they apparently didn't want to offend China," a diplomatic source said.
The Philippines then proposed the meeting be held at the level of vice ministers on Dec. 12 in Manila, for which it sent invitations to the three countries on Nov. 21.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had said the meeting would be held "to discuss viable options to move the issue forward" and find a "peaceful resolution" to the unresolved territorial rows.
The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Other contested areas in the South China Sea include the Paracel Islands, over which the navies of China and Vietnam have come to blows in the past, and Scarborough Shoal, an outcrop north of the Spratlys that is hotly disputed between China and the Philippines.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.