But PH officials assure Chinese warm welcome awaits Xi
CHINA expressed concern over possible rallies or protests directed against its leader, President Xi Jinping, during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Manila because of its territorial dispute with the Philippines and other countries whose leaders are also coming for the summit.
Although there are no specific threats, the Chinese Embassy in Manila is concerned about protests against China’s claim and occupation of territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) when Xi arrives in the country on November 17.
Ranking officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) went to the Chinese Embassy in Makati City to brief diplomats as well as Xi’s advance party to assure them that they will be safeguarded.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Tuesday pledged a warm welcome for Xi.
They made the pledge in rare talks with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Manila on a working visit ahead of the APEC summit.
“The President mentioned that he welcomed the decision of President Xi Jinping to attend the APEC summit,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told reporters after Wang’s courtesy call.
“He assured the foreign minister that it is in the culture of the Filipinos as hosts to make our guests feel the warmth of Filipino hospitality,” Coloma said.
The Chinese minister, who did not speak to the press, visited the Philippines “to ensure that President Xi’s visit will be smooth, safe and successful,” Filipino Foreign Affairs department spokesman Charles Jose also told reporters.
“[Wang] expressed hope that contentious issues will not be raised,” Jose said, adding that the Filipino side will not be seeking to discuss the South China Sea because of its pending case before the United Nations.
“In the context of APEC, we agreed that APEC is an economic forum and it won’t be the proper venue to discuss political and security issues,” Jose added.
Filipinos have been angered over what it has branded as China’s “bullying” and “hypocritical” tactics, including building artificial islands and taking control of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a rich fishing ground off Zambales.
China has in turn been angered over the Philippines’ efforts to have a UN tribunal rule on the dispute, as well as by Manila encouraging its defense ally the United States to exert military and political influence.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbors.
PNP Director-General Ricardo Marquez, who also heads the APEC Security Task Force, gave his assurances that the police have put in place measures and security arrangements for the “whole embassy road in Makati [City].”
Most ambassadors’ residences are either at the exclusive Dasmarinas Village or the equally exclusive Forbes Park in Makati City.
“As host of APEC, it is our duty [that]those concerns are properly addressed. This morning, there was a briefing and [specific]concerns [were]properly addressed,” Marquez said.
“[They want] an assurance that we actually laid down the best security [that]is humanly possible,” he added.
Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento said hosting APEC is a rare opportunity for the Philippines, and comes only once every two decades.
“Bisita ng bansa ang lahat ng dadalo. Ibig sabihin bisita sila ng lahat ng Pilipino [All those attending are the state’s visitors, which means they’re also visitors of Filipinos],” Sarmiento said.
Marquez said the PNP’s intelligence agency has not detected any terror threat for the leaders’ meeting next week from November 18 to 19.
“There’s no specific threat for us hosting, holding the APEC Economic Leaders meeting next week,” he added.
“We’re very, very confident already that we have put up a very good security plan.”
The PNP group had successfully handled 36 APEC events.
In those 36 events, Marquez said, they brought in the “best people” and gathered the “best practices.”
“We applied the major event security framework of APEC. Our people learned [on]the job. This is the final show so we are very, very confident that our security preparedness is so excellent,” he added.
Marquez said 70 percent of the security team deployed for APEC are PNP personnel.
The Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration will hold a one-week hearing starting November 24 on the Philippines’ case challenging China’s enormous claim to disputed South China Sea territories.
“Oral hearing on the merits of the Philippines-China arbitration case under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) will be held from November 24 to November 30, 2015 at The Hague,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement also on Wednesday.
The hearing is being held after the tribunal on October 30 announced that it has jurisdiction over the Philippines’ complaint, debunking China’s argument that the case is beyond the scope of the court’s mandate.
In its decision, the tribunal said it has immediate jurisdiction on seven out of 15 points raised by Manila against China, called “submissions” in legal parlance, but postponed for “later consideration” its jurisdiction ruling on eight other issues raised by Manila, saying it will be decided on as it conducts a formal hearing on merits of the case.
The Philippines also on Wednesday said it will not withdraw its arbitration case despite remarks by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that Manila’s legal action has strained ties between the two Asian neighbors.
“Arbitration, which is a universally-recognized dispute settlement mechanism in international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is a peaceful and enduring solution to the overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea. We are determined to pursue the arbitration case to its logical conclusion,” Foreign Affairs department spokesman Jose said.
A day after Wang’s bilateral meeting in Manila with Foreign Affairs chief del Rosario, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement quoting remarks made by its minister, saying the country’s case has “impeded” development and improvement of the two countries relations.
According to China’s Foreign Ministry, Wang spoke to journalists in Manila after his meeting with del Rosario and said, “We do not want this knot to become tighter and tighter, so that it even becomes a dead knot.”
Wang in an exclusive briefing for Manila-based Chinese journalists, said, “The person who caused the problem should solve it. We hope that the Philippines can make a more sensible choice.”
Opportunity to mend ties
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also on Wednesday urged the government to grab the opportunity presented by the APEC summit to repair the country’s diplomatic relations with China that were strained in recent years over maritime territorial dispute.
“I think we should take every opportunity to talk to the Chinese, be it formally, be it informally. We have to come up with a solution between the Chinese and the Philippines,” Marcos said in a radio interview in Cebu.
The senator noted that while the two sides agreed not to raise the issue of maritime dispute in the APEC summit, it presents a rare opportunity for top-level talks between leaders of the two countries.
“As long as the two sides are talking, there is hope we can find a peaceful solution to the territorial dispute,” he said.
Marcos also noted that China recently softened its hard-line stance and expressed openness to discuss the territorial row on the basis of international law.
He recalled that previously China staked its claim on the nine-dash line—a demarcation line covering majority of the disputed maritime territories citing China’s historic rights while the Philippines anchored its claim based on the Unclos or international law.
“For the first time [China agreed to talk about the dispute] within the framework of international law. I think that we should take this opportunity and bring up the subject at every chance that we can,” Marcos said.
On the other hand, the senator added, the Philippines should pursue its case before the UN arbitration tribunal.
Marcos, however, said the arbitration case will not solve by itself the territorial dispute between the two countries so Manila should explore all avenues for possible solutions, including bilateral talks with China.