MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III has invited China to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) in East Asia which the Philippines will host next month.
Aquino met with the new China Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua during the latter's presentation of credentials at the Palace on Tuesday.
Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, "I'm told that the atmosphere was very cordial during the 15 minutes that the President had conversed with the new ambassador, and that both sides agreed that the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea is not the totality of our relationship with our neighbor.
"And both sides reaffirmed our commitment to move forward with bilateral — with other facets of our relationships, particularly on trade, tourism, transnational crimes, among others. The President also thanked — extended our thanks to the Chinese side for their support for the 'Yolanda' victims. And also, the President extended an invitation to attend the World Economic Forum in May — the one that we're hosting in May."
Asked if the arrival of the new ambassador meant better relations with China, Valte said, "'Mas sound.' (laughs) You know, even with the previous one, it has always been like that. We've always agreed that the relationship with the People's Republic of China has always been multifaceted, and that the dispute in the West Philippine Sea is just a part or a segment of that relationship, and we see no reason why other segments of that relationship cannot move forward because of that one. We're hoping that it will continue to move forward, which the President also expressed this morning."
"I was told that after the photo opportunity with the President, they had time to talk — I think for about 15 minutes — in the same way that the President had the opportunity to converse with the previous ambassadors who went before, who presented their credentials to the President earlier than the ambassador of China," she added.
Zhao was included in a batch of new ambassadors who also presented their credentials: Lalduhthlana Ralte (India), Munther Mahfoodh Almantheri (Oman), Esra Cankorur (Turkey), Johny Lumintang (Indonesia), and Thomas Ossowski (Federal Republic of Germany).
The presentation is required before any new ambassador designate can start his actual tour of duty.
It comes more than a month after Zhao arrived in Manila on February 25, and after the Philippines filed its memorial before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) regarding its maritime dispute with China on the West Philippine Sea.
Tensions between Beijing and Manila have been simmering following media coverage of the Philippine miitary's successful restocking of an outpost in Ayungin Shoal. Chinese ships stopped an earlier attempt to restock the outpost.
Valte, however, cautioned against reading any malice into the delayed presentation of credentials.
In diplomatic circles, a delay in the presentation of credentials usually happens to signal the host government's objection to the new ambassador or a protest to the foreign country.
"I would not... Sometimes we do make it a point to — if there are a number of ambassadors who are waiting to present their credentials to the President — to allot a particular morning or a particular afternoon for all of them. I would not, RG, put any meaning as to the lapse of time between the time that the ambassador arrived until such time that he was able to present his credentials. Also, if I may point out, it has also been a busy month for the President and sometimes it’s just a matter of scheduling," Valte said.
By contrast, Aquino received the credentials of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg within a week of his arrival in November.
Zhao takes over from former Ambassador Ma Keqing. Zhao was reportedly a staff member, attaché, then Third Secretary at the Department of International Organizations and Conferences of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs; assigned to the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Vienna as Second Secretary; Counselor at China's Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organization in 2006; Minister-Counselor at the Chinese Embassy in India; Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok. Zhao was also Chinese ambassador in Liberia.
Meanwhile, Valte maintained that the Philippines has sovereignty over the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, two years after a government standoff with China over the disputed area.
"One, just to point out that our direction has always been not to respond to provocative acts, the President has said as much. And second, that stance, or at least that position, that we have adopted does not mean that we relinquished any sovereign rights. In fact, that was precisely the reason why we submitted our Memorial to the arbitral tribunal. The provision of payaws for local fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc is a measure intended to help our fishermen who have not been able to go consistently, to go out further into the waters consistently. And at this point, I would not put anything beyond that particular measure. I understand that we do get day-to-day updates on movements within the shoal, but I don't have an update for today in particular.”
She also sidestepped questions on what will happen to the Philippine case before the ITLOS should China really refuse to engage in that forum.
"My understanding is that the process will move on without them should they choose not to file an answer. I would not call it a standoff at this point. It will be completely up to the procedural matters on how it will be resolved."
Valte also welcomed a statement by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who called on China not to redraw its borders.
"We've always been of the position that anything regarding border disputes or maritime disputes must always be settled within the ambit of international law. And from what I gathered from Secretary Hagel's statement, he was saying as much, that these movements cannot be unilateral and that they must be settled according to the code that countries subscribed to," she said.