Philippines tells China to be 'responsible'

MANILA - The Philippines on Friday urged China to be a "responsible" power, while expressing concern again over the Asian giant's increasing assertiveness in disputed waters.

Nevertheless, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he expected the tensions that have escalated recently over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea would not escalate into armed conflict.

Del Rosario also said he planned to visit China next week, and he expected to discuss the dispute with Chinese leaders.

"We're counting on China's rise and growth and progress as being a responsible one," del Rosario told reporters.

"I have been invited to go to Beijing and I'm sure we will be looking for peaceful means to be able to settle the challenges that appear to be facing us at this time."

Del Rosario said his trip to China was tentatively set for July 7-9, although the dates had yet to be confirmed.

He also indicated Philippine President Benigno Aquino would eventually accept a longstanding invitation by the Chinese to visit, although that trip was also not set in stone.

"We're still trying to discuss the (Aquino) China trip," he said.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam voicing alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive Chinese actions there.

Del Rosario repeated Philippine accusations of Chinese forces opening fire on Filipino fishermen, shadowing an oil exploration vessel employed by a Filipino firm, and putting up structures in areas claimed by the Philippines.

He said he did not know why China had suddenly become more aggressive.

"I can only speculate that there appears to be some finding of significant natural gas deposits in the area," he said.

While he did not expect the tensions to lead to war, del Rosario said he was counting on the United States to deliver on Secretary Hillary Clinton's pledge last week to help its Asian ally acquire the means to defend its own territory.