MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino pledged a warm welcome for China's leader Xi Jinping at an economic summit in Manila next week, despite an ongoing row with its giant Asian neighbor over disputed islands, an aide said Tuesday.
The Filipino leader made the pledge as he hosted rare talks with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Manila on a working visit ahead of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
"The President mentioned that he welcomed the decision of President Xi Jinping to attend the APEC summit," Aquino spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters after Wang's courtesy call.
"He assured the foreign minister that it is in the culture of the Filipinos as hosts to make our guests feel the warmth of Filipino hospitality," Coloma added.
Wang, who did not speak to the press, called on Aquino after holding talks with Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
The visits by Wang and Xi offers a rare opportunity for top-level talks between the Asian neighbors, which have seen diplomatic relations plummet in recent years over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has been angered over what it has branded China's "bullying" and "hypocritical" tactics, including building artificial islands and taking control of a rich fishing shoal in Filipino-claimed waters.
China has in turn been angered over the Philippines' efforts to have a UN tribunal rule on the dispute, as well as by Manila encouraging its defense ally the United States to exert military and political influence.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbors.
Marciano Paynor, head of the hosts' APEC summit organizing committee, told reporters Monday the maritime row would be off the summit agenda.
"I will reiterate that when we meet at APEC, it's all economic issues and we do not take up bilateral, specific bilateral issues in APEC," Paynor added.
Discussing the Beijing officials' visits to Manila, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Monday that China wanted to improve relations with its neighbor.
"For reasons known to all, bilateral relations are facing difficulties, which is not something we want to see," Hong told reporters in Beijing.
"We value bilateral ties, and we would like to properly resolve relevant issues through consultations and negotiations."
His comments came after a landmark summit between Xi and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou at the weekend -- the first such meeting since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.
Those talks raised hopes of a further thaw in relations between the two former rivals.
However, Hong emphasized in his comments on Monday that the onus rested on the Philippines to improve ties with Beijing.
Aquino's only meetings with Chinese leaders included a very brief encounter with Xi on the sidelines of last year's Beijing APEC summit. He also made a state visit to China in 2011 for talks with Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao.
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