The Philippine defense secretary says President Rodrigo Duterte has stopped construction work on a newly formed sandbar in the disputed South China Sea after a protest from Beijing.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday the new territorial spat happened in August and prompted China and the Philippines to consider some sort of protocol or arrangement to allow both sides to prevent such incidents from spiraling out of control.

Lorenzana says the dispute over the sandbar at Sandy Cay near the Philippine-occupied Thitu island remains unresolved but both sides pledged not to occupy any new territory.

China's claims to most of the South China Sea overlap with those by the Philippines and other neighbors. Despite that, tensions have eased since Duterte warmed up to Beijing.