PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd will not be attending the China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Expo for Complex Trade Show (Caexpo) to be held in Nanning, China from September 3 to 6.
Raul Hernandez, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said that Mr. Aquino preferred to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at a more “conducive time.”
“The President has decided not to proceed to Caexpo taking into consideration China’s request for the President to visit China at a more conducive time,” Hernandez said. “On the part of the Philippines, we will continue to abide by our principled position that bilateral relations can advance despite differences”.
The Philippines is the “country of honor” in this year’s expo. Per tradition, the president of the country of honor must attend the international trade fair.
This year also marks the Philippines-China Years of Friendly Exchanges, a joint initiative by the two countries “to encourage more people-to-people exchanges in order to strengthen understanding and mutual trust between them.”
Last year, during the 9th Caexpo when Myanmar was the country of honor, it was Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas who attended in behalf of President Aquino.
The Caexpo this year was originally scheduled on September 20 to 24, but had to be moved to accommodate the schedule of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Mr. Aquino last visited China in 2011 when he met outgoing President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. That was before the two-month naval standoff at the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, which triggered massive tensions between Manila and Beijing.
Since Xi became President of Asia’s largest economy, he has met with all the region’s leaders except for Mr. Aquino. A bilateral meeting was sought during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Vladivostok, Russia last year but it never took place.
The exchanges in the Caexpo are expected to create business opportunities for enterprises that can promote and deepen strategic partnerships between China and members of Asean—Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.
The Philippines, Vietnam. Malaysia and Brunei are claimants to the resource-rich region that Beijing claims in whole.
The once friendly relations between Manila and Beijing took a dip when a naval standoff ensued last year. The Philippines early this year brought the dispute before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea.