MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas arrived in Nanning, China on Friday, where he is scheduled to meet with the country's leader-in-waiting for talks on a tense territorial dispute.
In an interview on dzMM on Friday morning, Roxas expressed hope the talks with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will be the first step in mending the ties between the two countries.
"Generally, kaugnay ito sa kasalukuyang di pagkakaintindihan ng dalawang bansa. Ang kakausapin natin ay ang papasok na susunod na pangulo nila sa susunod na national congress, si Xi Jinping. Binigyan tayo ng pagkakataon at our request na masabi ang ating gusto at sa ganun maging hakbang ito sa magandang pag-uunawaan," he said.
However, Roxas said the discussions with Xi would not cover the back-channel efforts of Senator Antonio Trillanes.
"Wala ho sa pag-uusap yan. Ang direchong dinownload sa akin ang gusto ipaabot ng pangulo. Di naman puede lalabas ka doon kasi ito ay sinabi ng pangulo. Ako ay kartero lamang," he said.
Roxas, in an interview with ABS-CBN News on Thursday , said President Benigno Aquino ordered him to lead a delegation that will meet with Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a trade exposition in Nanning.
"Inutusan tayo ng Pangulo na maging paraan para maipaabot ang pananaw niya at ng Malacañang tungkol sa mga bagay bagay sa mga kontrobersiya at isyu sa pagitan ng China at Pilipinas. Parang kartero, messenger na maghahatid ng posisyon ng ating bansa," Roxas said.
"Ang pagkakaunawa ko ay ayon sa Department of Foreign Affairs, ang pagkikita ay with Mr. Xi Jinping, ang kasalukuyang pangalawang pangulo ng bansang China," he added.
Xi, the man Roxas will meet, is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as leader of China's ruling Communist Party at its upcoming 5-yearly Congress, then take over as president in March next year.
Roxas declined to comment if his visit has anything to do with the dispute Wednesday between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and the Philippines' previous "backdoor emissary," Senator Antonio Trillanes IV over the handling of the dispute between Manila and Beijing.
"Hndi ko masasabi. Ang masasabi ko lang ay napagutusan po tayo na dalhin ang mensahe ng Pangulo sa pamunuan ng bansang Tsina, sa okasyong itong trade conference na kung saan ang matataas ng leader nila ay mag-aattend at doon magkakaroon ng bilateral na pag-uusap," he said.
Roxas said he may stay in China up to Saturday or Sunday.
Message to China
He did not disclose the message he will bring to China's next leader.
"Mas maganda siguro kung (ang pangulo) mismo o ang Department of Foreign Affairs ang magsabi niyan. Tayo naman po, ay ayon sa utos ng Pangulo, ay ipapaabot itong sinabi niya sa akin sa pamunuan ng bansang Tsina so dun ko po ipinapaabot," he said.
Roxas said his visit is part of the Philippines' diplomatic efforts with China. "Kabahagi ito ng diplomasya sa pagitan ng dalawang bansa na nagkakaroon ng di pagkakaintidihan sa ilang bagay."
"Hindi naman pwedeng iatras natin ang interes ng bansa para lamang smiling smiling ang lahat. Pero hindi naman tayo naghahanap ng away o kalaban, ipapaabot lang natin ang sinserong pananaw ng ating bansa dito sa bagay na ito," he explained.
He said Aquino and the Department of Foreign Affairs have briefed him on the current situation between the two countries.
"Binigyan tayo ng briefing ng Department of Foreign Affairs. Pati na rin ng pangulo siya mismo ang nag-brief kung ano, the thoughts themselves, the subtleties, the nuances ng mga mensahe. Kaya ito naman sa abot ng aking makakaya, ay gagawin ko," Roxas said.
Back-channel talks and Trillanes
Roxas' appointment came after the government acknowledged Wednesday it used Trillanes in back-channel talks with China to ease tensions between the two countries.
However the tactic appeared to backfire domestically after Trillanes publicly criticized the Philippines' chief negotiator in the dispute, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, calling him "treasonous."
The Palace conceded Thursday that Trillanes' public comments over the back-channel talks had created problems.
"This is an unnecessary nuisance," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the West Philippine 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.
Tension 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.
DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez on Thursday said 3 Chinese ships have remain in waters around Scarborough Shoal.
He added that a rope barrier placed by the Chinese at the mouth of he shoal's lagoon has not been removed.
Hernandez said the Philippines currently does not have a ship in the area. - with a report from Agence France-Presse