Beijing has withdrawn its invitation to President Benigno Aquino 3rd to attend the China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Expo for Complex Trade Show (Caexpo) in the province of Nanning.
“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,” Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said.
Hernandez did not say what prodded China’s “request.”
He however said the Philippines “will continue to abide by our principled position that bilateral relations can advance despite differences.”
The 10th Caexpo will be from September 3 to 6. The Philippines is the “country of honor” in the expo, tradition dictates that the President must attend.
This year also marks the Philippines-China Years of Friendly Exchanges, an initiative by the two countries “to encourage more people-to-people exchanges in order to strengthen understanding and mutual trust between them.”
At the 9th Caexpo, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas attended in behalf of President Aquino. He was received by then Vice President Xi Jinping, now the leader of more than 1.2 billion Chinese.
This year’s Caexpo was scheduled for September 20 to 24, but had to be reset so that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang can attend.
Mr. Aquino last visited China was 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 China, he has met with all the region’s leaders except Mr. Aquino.
A meeting between the two leaders 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 the Asean member-nations.
Asean is composed of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.
Four of the 10-member bloc are claimants to the resource-rich region that Beijing claims in whole. Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam also have claims on the territories.
Relations between Manila and Beijing soured when a naval standoff ensued last year.
Early this year, the Philippines brought the dispute before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos).
China refused to participate in the arbitral proceedings, but the Philippines is adamant the case can move on without Beijing.
Manila hopes the tribunal can invalidate Beijing’s nine-dash line.
BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON