VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (UPDATE) – It went from unconfirmed to definite, but the planned talks between President Benigno Aquino III and China’s Hu Jintao did not come to pass as both struggled to find common time here on the sidelines of the 20th APEC leaders meeting.
On Saturday night, President Aquino was hopeful that a “frank exchange of thoughts” and a “heart-to-heart” with Hu could ease tensions over disputed isles in the West Philippine Sea – including the stand-off at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and the alleged recent movements by China on Mischief Reef.
“I asked for a frank exchange of thoughts. Hindi ba parang i-divorce natin ang diplomatic niceties, so we understand where they’re coming from, they understand where we’re coming from and hopefully, it will lead to an understanding,” Aquino told Filipino reporters. "Pag nagkaroon kayo ng heart-to-heart talk at talagang merong open mind sa isa‘t-isa, baka naman we can get beyond what can be said publicly."
On Sunday morning, however, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario said the meeting already looked “less likely” because the President has a full schedule until the time he is to leave Vladivostok for Manila at 4 p.m. local time.
“We gave them…the dates and the time when we would be open and we asked them to look at that and it didn’t jibe or it doesn’t jibe with theirs,” he said.
Mr. Aquino arrived here Friday night and had four bilateral talks this weekend, on top of the APEC leaders’ meetings. Hu arrived Thursday night.
Del Rosario said the Philippines is disappointed.
“I think that a lot could have been achieved in terms of a meeting between the leaders for them to be able to share the various points of view and I think that this probably is not only a downside for the Philippines but also for China because it’s a good opportunity for the leaders to, as I said, to be able to exchange views freely. And if it doesn’t happen, I think this is obviously a missed opportunity,” he said.
Nevertheless, the President managed to reach out to leaders of Malaysia and Vietnam – claimants of the Spratlys group of islands along with the Philippines, China, Taiwan and Brunei.
Del Rosario said the parties agreed to continue adhering to the principles adopted by ASEAN on the code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea. Aquino first met with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and then with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.