A bitter maritime dispute between China and the Philippines over reefs and islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) will not be discussed during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit next week.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday to seek assurance that the contentious issues between Beijing and Manila will not be tackled during the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting on November 18 and 19 to be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said the Philippines agreed that the dispute will not be raised.
“We both agreed APEC is an economic forum and it won’t be the proper venue to discuss political security issues,” Jose added.
Since Manila has a pending case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, he said, it cannot discuss the sea dispute.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd also met with China’s foreign minister, who is in Manila on a working visit ahead of the APEC summit.
“The President mentioned that he welcomed the decision of President Xi Jinping to attend the APEC summit,” Aquino spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters after Wang’s courtesy call.
“He assured the foreign minister that it is in the culture of the Filipinos as hosts to make our guests feel the warmth of Filipino hospitality,” Coloma said.
The Chinese minister, who did not speak to the press, visited the Philippines “to ensure that President Xi’s visit will be smooth, safe and successful,” Jose said.
The visits by Wang and Xi offer a rare opportunity for top-level talks between the Asian neighbors, which have seen diplomatic relations plummet in recent years over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has been angered by what it has branded China’s “bullying” and “hypocritical” tactics, including building artificial islands and taking control of a rich fishing shoal in Filipino-claimed waters.
China has in turn been angered by the Philippines’ efforts to have a UN tribunal rule on the dispute, as well as by Manila encouraging its defense ally the United States to exert military and political influence.
It claims nearly all of the West Philippine Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbors.
Marciano Paynor, head of the hosts’ APEC summit organizing committee, told reporters on Monday the maritime row would be off the summit agenda.
“I will reiterate that when we meet at APEC, it’s all economic issues and we do not take up bilateral, specific bilateral issues in APEC,” Paynor said.
Discussing the Beijing officials’ visits to Manila, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Tuesday said China wanted to improve relations with its neighbor.
“We believe that we need to properly deal with our disputes in the South China Sea to ensure that they do not disrupt our relationship with our neighboring countries.”
Hong, however, also on Monday said the onus rested on the Philippines to improve ties with Beijing.
His comments came after a landmark summit between Xi and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou at the weekend — the first such meeting since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.
Those talks raised hopes of a further thaw in relations between the two former rivals.
Aquino’s only meetings with Chinese leaders included a very brief encounter with Xi at the sidelines of last year’s Beijing APEC summit and talks with Hu in Beijing in his 2011 state visit.