MANILA, Philippines - China is seeking a bilateral meeting with the Philippines on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Vladivostok, Russia next month amid the two countries’ dispute over areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura del Rosario, in a press briefing at Malacañang yesterday, said the meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Aquino had not yet been confirmed, with both delegations still to finalize their schedules.
The APEC summit is set on Sept. 8 and 9.
The President and his delegation will leave on Sept. 7.
Del Rosario said the Philippines wanted to focus on boosting economic partnerships with China during the planned meeting, and not the West Philippine Sea dispute that has caused deep diplomatic fissures.
“We just hope... that whatever political issues we have, we can just separate it from economic issues and trade issues,” she said.
Tensions between the Philippines and China escalated dramatically in April when vessels from both countries engaged in a standoff over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
“I’m sure it (West Philippine Sea issue) will be raised by the other side... The Philippines will not raise it. We will not say we are here to meet due to this – no, no. The other side may, might raise the issue. So what I see here is that most probably the President will just explain our position and then what we’re trying to do to resolve it. And we’ll say, we’ll again reiterate, the need to maintain the economic relations,” Del Rosario said.
“It’s useless to discuss the problem in a high-pitched voice,” she added. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, meanwhile, said “it would be good for the two heads of state to speak to each other and it would be in the best interest of both heads of state to discuss issues of mutual concern.”
“We have been discussing this matter through the Secretary of Foreign Affairs or through the Chinese Foreign Minister. Very recently, Secretary (Albert) Del Rosario met with the Chinese foreign minister. Certainly it would be good for both heads of state to speak to each other directly,” Lacierda said.
Other bilateral meetings
Del Rosario said eight other leaders have requested bilateral meetings with the President.
They are from Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.
“He will have about three to four hours for bilateral meetings and each meeting would take about 30 to 40 minutes, so we will have to prioritize,” Del Rosario said, adding that the President is expected to say yes to China.
Del Rosario said a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will represent President Barack Obama, has not been finalized. Obama will not attend the APEC summit because of the upcoming US elections.
She said Foreign Secretary Del Rosario will also hold bilateral talks with Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying.
She said economic relations would be at the forefront of the bilateral meetings and if the West Philippine Sea issue would be raised, the President could explain “what we’re doing about it, what we’re doing to even deescalate (tensions).”
“I’m sure even Japan will welcome that... Now, they’re the target of all these conflicting claims. I mean it looks like the latest news that we had,” she said.
Del Rosario said they are still working on the issues to be discussed with Japan and the other countries. Aquino’s delegation in the APEC summit includes Foreign Secretary Del Rosario, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.
Del Rosario said the Philippines would be “working to sustain economic growth through a commitment to free and open trade, investment liberalization and facilitation and economic reform.”
She said APEC leaders would discuss ways to “promote trade, investment liberalization, closer integration, food security, cooperation in the field of prevention, mitigation of natural disasters, and diversification and improvement of transportation and logistics chains.”
Del Rosario said the President will also participate in the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) Dialogue, which gives ABAC members the opportunity to meet with APEC leaders and discuss business concerns that involve a particular community.
Among the members of the Philippine business delegation are Tony Tan Caktiong, chief executive officer of Jollibee Foods Corp.; Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chairman and CEO of Ayala Corp.; and Doris Magsaysay Ho, president and CEO of Magsaysay Inc.
APEC, which has 21 member economies, accounts for approximately 40 percent of the world’s population, around 54 percent of the world gross domestic product and 44 percent of world trade.
It is the premier forum for facilitating growth, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region. – With Delon Porcalla