MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino will seek European support for Philippine efforts to resolve maritime territorial disputes with China during a week-long visit to European Union nations including France and Germany, a Foreign Ministry official said on Monday.
Mr Aquino will also raise his proposal to stop China from further escalating tensions in the strategically vital South China Sea, Assistant Foreign Secretary Zeneida Collinson said. "In all the meetings starting with Spain, we will seek their continued support on the Philippine position in the West Philippine Sea," she told reporters, using the local term for the South China Sea.
"It's important for our president to have the opportunity to apprise these world leaders directly on what is happening in... the South China Sea", when he visits Spain, Belgium, France and Germany from Sept 13 to Sept 20, she said. Such support can be "tacit" and did not need to be contained in a formal document, she added.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, a vital shipping lane and fishing ground that is believed to hold vast mineral resources. This conflicts with the territorial claims of the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In recent years, tensions between the Philippines and China have risen as Beijing has aggressively pressed its claim, citing "historical facts" and occupying and fortifying outcrops and islets.
Last month, the Philippines protested at China's increasing patrols in the Reed Bank, the site of a confrontation between vessels from the two countries in 2012.
While the poorly equipped Philippine military cannot match China, Mr Aquino has resorted to diplomatic and legal means including an arbitration case before a United Nations tribunal. However, China has refused to participate in the proceedings.
Ms Collinson said the Europeans have previously supported the Philippines in seeking a "peaceful resolution of conflict".
During his meetings with European leaders, Mr Aquino will also bring up his "triple action plan" calling on China and other claimants to halt all provocative actions, she added.
While in France, Mr Aquino will meet with French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls and discuss improving defence relations, Ms Collinson said.