There is no official confirmation if President Benigno Aquino 3rd will attend the China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) trade expo in the southern city of Nanning in China next month.
Raul Hernandez, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman, said Malacanang has yet to officially announce if the President will be at the Nanning expo which is from September 3 to 6.
Hernandez’s statement contradicted reports that Mr. Aquino had accepted the invitation by the Chinese government to attend the said expo.
The President’s visit is seen as a move to mend relations between the two countries which were strained by the territorial disputes in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The Nanning expo considers the Philippines is the “country of honor,” and as such the president of that country is obliged to attend.
This year also marks the Philippines-China Years of Friendly Exchanges, a bilateral initiative “to encourage more people-to-people exchanges in order to strengthen understanding and mutual trust between them.”
At last year’s 9th Caexpo, when Myanmar was the country of honor, it was Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas who represented President Aquino. He was received by then Vice President Xi Jinping, now the leader of more than 1.2 billion Chinese.
The Caexpo this year was originally scheduled September 20 to 24, but was 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 soured relations between Manila and Beijing.
Since Xi became China’s president, he has met with all the region’s leaders except Mr. Aquino. A meeting between the two leaders was planned 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, which is composed of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam have claims in the West Philippine Sea, all of which is being claimed by Beijing.
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 not sure if the case can move without Beijing.
BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON