‘Scheduling’ snags China official’s visit

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‘Recent remarks’ of Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay about China’s construction activities in the South China Sea were not the reason why a scheduled visit to the Philippines of the Chinese commerce minister was postponed by Beijing.

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This was clarified on Friday by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, who described the remarks as “regrettable.”

“Due to scheduling reasons, the China-Philippines Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation has decided to postpone its meeting for several days. The two sides are still working on relevant preparations,” Geng said in a regular news conference.

He pointed out that the successful visit to China by President Rodrigo Duterte last year brought about a turnaround in China-Philippines relations and that the two sides are making joint efforts to implement various cooperation agreements.

Geng said the two countries have returned to the right track of properly dealing with the South China Sea issue through bilateral friendly consultations and Manila and Beijing have seen booming cooperation in various sectors.

But the “recent remarks” of Yasay, according to the Chinese spokesman, apparently deviated from the consensus of the two leaders and have gone against the current trend of the sound and rapid development of China-Philippine relations.

“[Such remarks] disagree with the overall stable situation of the South China Sea and run counter to the shared desire of regional countries to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea and promote regional cooperation,” he added.

Geng made no mention of the specific “remarks” made by Yasay that China finds unacceptable.

The Philippine official was recently quoted as saying that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) had “grave concern” over China’s reclamation activities and installation of weapons systems at the South China Sea.

The Foreign Affairs secretary also on Thursday told reporters in an interview that it would be a “game changer” if China decided to reclaim or build an artificial island in Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal).

“China finds them [remarks]baffling and regrettable. We hope that Mr. Yasay can follow the consensus reached by the two leaders and the shared desire of regional countries, exercise prudence and make concrete efforts to uphold China-Philippines relations and regional peace and stability,” Geng said.

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