BEIJING, China - China on Monday said it opposed the Philippines seeking Southeast Asian unity to denounce its reclamation in the South China Sea, and hoped Washington and Manila, who have been conducting a military exercise in the disputed waters, do more to benefit regional peace and stability.
Earlier on Monday, an official said Philippine President Benigno Aquino will ask Southeast Asian leaders to issue a collective statement denouncing China's reclamation in disputed waters, as the army expressed concern over expanding building works.
Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested territory around the Spratly islands in the South China Sea and may be planning another, moves that have been greeted with concern by G7 states and Asia.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday said China opposed the Philippines using territorial issues to damage the relationship between China and Southeast Asian countries.
"The issue of the South China Sea is not an issue between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN). We oppose certain countries using the South China Sea issue to damage the friendly cooperative relationship between China and the countries of ASEAN. We are willing to work together with the countries of ASEAN to earnestly implement the two-way-thinking solution of the South China Sea, jointly protect the peace and stability in the region of the South China Sea," Hong told media at a regular briefing in Beijing.
Soldiers from the U.S. and the Philippines began their biggest combined military exercise in 15 years on Monday, in a demonstration of Washington's commitment to its long-time ally as it rebalances, or pivots, to Asia in the face of China's expansion in the South China Sea.
The exercise comes a few days after the Philippines said it was seeking more "substantive" support from the United States on how to counter China's rapid expansion.
China's reclamation around seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea has alarmed claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, and drawn growing criticism from U.S. government officials and the military.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said Washington is concerned China is using its "sheer size and muscle" to push around smaller nations in the disputed sea, drawing a swift rebuke from Beijing.
Hong said he hoped the U.S. and the Philippines would do more to benefit regional peace and stability.
"We have noticed the relevant report. We hope the relevant countries do more that is beneficial to increasing mutual security trust between countries in the region and that is beneficial to regional peace and stability," Hong said.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and denies accusations its actions in its own territory are provocative.