Philippine President Aquino to visit China amid South China Sea dispute

Updated On: Aug 25, 2011

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is visiting China next week, with trade and investment at the top of the agenda.

The state visit comes amidst continuing tensions over the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

A Philippine spokeswoman said President Aquino and his Chinese counterpart President Hu Jintao would discuss the South China Sea issue, but not extensively.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asia and the Pacific Cristina Ortega said the Philippines and China had “agreed to disagree” on the matter and would not allow it to affect bilateral relations.

She added that President Aquino's discussions with President Hu would be a meeting between two heads of state, and it would not be appropriate to be confrontational.

But she said the dispute will be part of the joint statement between the Philippines and China, which would be released after the state visit.

“That will be crafted during and right after the state visit to China so we don’t know yet. I don’t think we can preempt the joint statement but I would assume that there would be a line or two on the West Philippine Sea,” Ortega said.

The Philippines has been referring to the South China Sea as the 'West Philippine Sea', in relation to its own stake in the area.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchao confirmed that the dispute will be taken up in an “appropriate way” and “in good faith” during President Aquino's visit.

He said the two sides do not want the issue to affect the overall relationship between China and the Philippines.

Report: Spratlys row: China, Phl agree to disagree [Phillipine Star, 25 Aug 2011]

Claims in the South China Sea have been a sore spot between the two countries for most of the year. Philippine officials reported at least seven run-ins with Chinese vessels in territory that Manila claims as part of its exclusive economic zone.

The sea has major shipping lanes and is believed to hold vast deposits of natural gas and oil. Apart from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims there.

In recent months, the Philippines and Vietnam have emphasised their existing defence ties with the United States.

Earlier this week, the Philippine Navy took delivery of a refurbished warship purchased from the US, which is now the largest and newest vessel in the fleet. The ship will patrol waters claimed by the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Speaking as the ship dropped anchor in Manila, President Aquino called the vessel a symbol of the country’s determination to defend its claims in the disputed region.

“This ship symbolizes our newly acquired ability to guard, protect, and if necessary, fight for the interests of our country,” he said.

Report: President Aquino: Ship symbol of our defense [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 Aug 2011]
Report: South China Sea on Agenda as Philippine President Heads to Beijing [Voice of America, 24 Aug 2011]

Commenting on the ship's arrival, Ambassador Liu said China is supportive of the modernization drive of the Philippine military and respects the relationship between the US and the Philippines.

President Aquino will visit China between 30 August and 3 September. This is his first state visit to a non-ASEAN country since taking office.

Aside from the trade and investment issues that the visit will focus on, promoting tourism is also a major concern. Tourism between the two countries has suffered since eight Hong Kong tourists died in Manila after their bus was hijacked in August 2010.

While in China, President Aquino will meet top Chinese officials and business leaders in Beijing and Shanghai. He will also travel to Xiamen, to see the village where his ancestors came from.

Report: Trade ties to top Aquino's China visit agenda [China Daily, 25 Aug 2011]

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