BEIJING - China called on the Philippines on Friday to meet it halfway on new Chinese fishing rules in the disputed South China Sea, adding that Beijing was always willing to make efforts to resolve such issues via talks.
China imposed fishing restrictions from the beginning of year, requiring foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval before entering the waters.
Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the energy-rich South China Sea have set it directly against Vietnam and U.S. ally the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the waters and China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.
The Philippines will defy the new Chinese rules and the navy will escort fishing boats to protect them if necessary, the country's defense secretary said on Thursday.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei struck a conciliatory line when asked about the comments at a news briefing, though he underscored China's resolve to defend its sovereignty.
"China's will to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and integrity is unwavering. At the same time, we always put forth efforts to resolve the relevant issue through dialogue and consultations," Hong said.
"We hope the relevant country can adopt an objective stance, meet China halfway on the relevant issue, and put forth concrete efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability."
Addressing his regional counterparts at a meeting in Myanmar, the Philippines foreign minister said the new rules, and China's introduction last year of an air defense identification zone, had boosted tensions.
"Clearly, in addition to unilateral measures to change the status quo and threats to the stability of the region, these latest developments violate the legitimate rights of coastal and other states under international law...and more specifically the principles of freedom of navigation and overflight," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told the gathering.
In comments to ministers from the 10-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) provided by his ministry, del Rosario said the developments could undermine ASEAN's work to establish a "code of conduct" on the South China Sea.
Foreign ministers of ASEAN are holding four days of meetings in the ancient city of Bagan to set the agenda for Myanmar's chairmanship of the bloc this year. The South China Sea is likely once again to overshadow ASEAN meetings this year.
The United States has also expressed concern about Chinese moves in the South China Sea, which have included confrontations between Vietnamese fishermen and Chinese patrol ships.
China's official People's Daily on Friday cited the State Oceanic Administration whose ships generally carry out patrols in the East and South China Sea, as saying China would build 20 new patrol vessels this year.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Huang; Yan and Manuel Mogato in Manila; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)