The Philippine president is set to court support from his Southeast Asian allies at summit talks this week to form a united front against China over a high seas territorial dispute.
Benigno Aquino will stress that peacefully solving overlapping claims in the South China Sea is a "paramount concern" for Manila as well as for the region, according to an internal foreign department document obtained by AFP on Monday.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is to hold its annual summit on the Indonesian island of Bali from Thursday, followed by a broader East Asian summit including China and, for the first time, the United States.
To the disquiet of Washington and ASEAN members, China claims all of the South China Sea, including the Spratlys, a group of islands believed to sit atop vast oil and mineral reserves.
China's rival Taiwan, as well as ASEAN countries Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, also lay claim to all or part of the Spratlys, which straddle vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
Aquino wants to make the sea a "zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation" instead of a potential flashpoint for conflict by erecting a rules-based regime to govern the area, the internal document said.
"The Philippines calls on ASEAN to facilitate a meeting among claimant states in the South China Sea, including China, to discuss these claims and define both the undisputed and disputed areas for the purposes of establishing a joint cooperation area," it said.
"ASEAN must play a decisive role at this time if it desires to realise its aspirations for global leadership."
ASEAN and China adopted a non-binding code of conduct in 2002 to discourage hostile acts in the South China Sea. The Philippines wants the code to be strengthened with binding rules.
Tensions in the decades-old dispute have escalated this year amid accusations from the Philippines and Vietnam that Beijing is becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its South China Sea claims.
The Philippines' foreign undersecretary for policy, Erlinda Basilio, said Aquino would raise his proposal at every opportunity at this week's top-level talks in Bali, which will be joined by US President Barack Obama.
"We will try to enlighten them on the merits of our proposal and we will continue to do so because the president has enunciated a rules-based regime and the importance of international law," Basilio told reporters in Manila before heading to Bali.
"It's like a stone -- a constant pour of water will certainly erode, however hard the rock is," she said, expressing hope that a common ASEAN front would prod China into concessions.
Taiwan said last month it planned to deploy advanced missiles over disputed Spratly islands that it controls, prompting an appeal for calm from the United States.
Then in late October, outspoken Chinese newspaper The Global Times warned neighbouring nations with rival claims in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea to "prepare for the sounds of cannons".© ANP/AFP