MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III will send a "special envoy" to China in an effort to meet the country's leader-in-waiting for talks on a tense territorial dispute, his spokesman said Thursday.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas will lead a delegation to a five-day trade expo in China's southern city of Nanning starting on Friday, which Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is also set to attend, spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
"We are hoping that we are able to meet with the vice president," Lacierda told reporters.
"The DFA (foreign department) is arranging for the meeting."
The latest effort for top-level talks comes after Aquino failed to secure a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Russia this month.
Aquino had hoped to discuss with Hu the countries' competing claims in the South China Sea but a tentative meeting never happened.
"The president has given his approval to Secretary Roxas to relay to the vice president (Xi) what President Aquino wanted to relay to President Hu Jintao," Lacierda said.
Xi is widely expected to succeed Hu as leader of China's ruling Communist Party at an upcoming five-yearly Congress of China's ruling Communist Party, then take over as president in March next year.
Roxas's appointment came after the government acknowledged Wednesday it used a controversial senator in back-channel talks with China to ease tensions between the two countries.
However the tactic appeared to backfire domestically after the senator, Antonio Trillanes, publicly criticised the Philippines' chief negotiator in the dispute, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, calling him "treasonous".
Lacierda conceded Thursday that Trillanes' public comments over the back-channel talks had created problems.
"This is an unnecessary nuisance," Lacierda said.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, is a rich fishing ground and is home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.
But the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea, some of them overlapping.
Tensions between the Philippines and China escalated dramatically in April when vessels from the two countries became engaged in a stand-off in Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop in the sea.
Both sides later agreed to gradually pull out their vessels, defusing some of the tension.