Philippines says working to defuse China row

The Philippines said Tuesday it was working to ease a tense territorial stand-off with China, following a warning from the Chinese government that it was preparing for "any escalation".

"We are endeavouring to undertake a new diplomatic initiative which we hope will help the situation," foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said via text message when asked for a response to the Chinese statement.

Hernandez said he would not provide further details of the Philippine efforts.

China's foreign ministry released a statement earlier Tuesday in which vice foreign minister Fu Ying accused the Philippines of being responsible for escalating tensions over the disputed area in the South China Sea.

"The Chinese side has... made all preparations to respond to any escalation of the situation by the Philippine side," Fu told a Philippine diplomat on Monday, according to the statement.

The row began a month ago when Chinese vessels blocked a Philippine warship from arresting crews of Chinese fishing boats near the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

The two countries have since maintained ships in the shoal in an effort to assert their country's sovereignty.

The Philippines says the shoal is well within the country's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as recognised by international law.

But China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea as its historical territory, even waters close to other countries' coasts and hundreds of kilometres from its own landmass.