The Philippines says differences within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations prevented the 10-nation bloc from issuing a tough statement on territorial feuds in the South China Sea after a meeting hosted by China this week.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told reporters Thursday that the ASEAN foreign ministers' failure to issue a joint statement after discussing the disputes with their Chinese counterpart prompted half of the bloc's member states to issue their own individual statements.

Jose said the ministers initially agreed on the text of the joint statement but some may have changed their mind later, preventing it from being issued publicly.

The disunity underscores the difficulty of resolving the disputes, which analysts fear could spark an armed confrontation in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.