The US says tensions in the South China Sea could undermine regional peace and stability [Reuters]

The United States has said it is ready to provide new hardware to the Philippine military as Manila vowed to "stand up to any aggressive action" amid rising tensions at sea with China.

Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, visiting Washington, said the Philippines hoped to lease equipment to upgrade its aged fleet and called for the countries to revamp their relationship.

"We are determined and committed to supporting the defence of the Philippines," Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told a joint news conference when asked about the hardware wishlist from the Philippines.

Clinton said the two nations were working "to determine what are the additional assets that the Philippines needs and how we can best provide those".

She said del Rosario would meet defense secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing in the disputed waters.

"We are concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability," Clinton told reporters, urging "all sides to exercise self-restraint".

Del Rosario, with Clinton at his side, said: "While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard".

The Philippines has announced the deployment to the disputed waters of its navy flagship, the Rajah Humabon. One of the world's oldest warships, the vessel was a former US Navy frigate that served during World War II.

The Philippines has historically bought second-hand hardware, but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino had allocated $252m to upgrade the navy.

The US signed a defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951, five years after the archipelago's independence from US colonial rule. Del Rosario said he believed the treaty - which calls for mutual defense in the event of an attack in "the Pacific area" - covers the South China Sea.

China has said it will not resort to the use of force in the South China Sea but has warned the US to stay out of territorial spats.

"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire," China's vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said.

Cui will meet in Hawaii on Saturday with Kurt Campbell, a US assistant secretary of state, for a first dialogue between the two nations to focus specifically on Asia-Pacific affairs.

The US plans to hold joint exercises with the Philippines next week and the US Navy will visit Vietnam next month, although US officials have described the events as routine.

Source: Al Jazeera