President Benigno Aquino 3rd is going on a one-day trip to China on Sept. 3 in what is seen as an effort to end strained relations with China triggered by the standoff in Bajo de Masinloc in April last year.
The President has accepted China’s invitation to attend the 10th Asean-China Expo (CAEXPO) to be held in Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, from Sept. 3 to 6, Malacañang and Department of Foreign Affairs sources said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will receive Aquino and the special envoys of the other nine Asean countries. Aquino will also attend a forum with Chinese businessmen.
The Philippines is the “country of honor” at this year’s Expo. It is a tradition that the president of that country attends the international trade fair.
Last year, when Myanmar was the country of honor, the Philippines was represented by Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas. He was received by then Vice President Xi Jinping, who is now president.
Malacañang on Wednesday neither confirmed nor denied reports that Aquino will attend the CAEXPO event.
The Chinese government had earlier requested the Philippines to send a high-level delegation to the expo.
This year’s CAEXPO was originally set Sept. 20-24 but was moved to accommodate Premier Li’s schedule.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Palace has yet to confirm if the President will attend the event.
“The President has signified his intentions to attend the Caexpo in Nanning in September. However, it is not confirmed yet that he will attend,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
Relations between the Philippines and China started to fray with the arrest by a Philippine Navy warship of Chinese fishermen in eight fishing boats in Bajo de Masinloc known internationally as Scarborough Shoal which is also being claimed by China.
The arrest triggered a 57-day standoff which was broken after back-channeling by Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th and behind-the-scene efforts by the United States.
At the height of the standoff, there were some 80 ships in the shoal 130 nautical miles from Zambales. Three Chinese ships control the area which has become inaccessible to Filipino fisherman.
The Philippines in January filed a suit with the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal, the only country to have haled the Asian superpower to a UN court, questioning the legality of China’s nine-dash-line map which covers the whole South China Sea and encroaches on the territories of other countries.
The Philippines and China, together with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have conflicting claims over islands in the Spratlys in the South China Sea.
Aquino and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario have noticeably toned down their anti-China rhetoric.
WITH REPORTS FROM CATHERINE VALENTE AND BERNICE CAMILLE BAUZON
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)