BEIJING – President Aquino sees his pull-aside meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Philippine-China bilateral relations as the possible start of ''reconciliation'' between the two nations.
Aquino said the West Philippine Sea dispute was mentioned in passing during his meeting with Xi on Tuesday, as Aquino expressed gratitude over the “warm” reception from China on the last day of his trip here to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Aquino explained that the Philippines is pushing for arbitration to clarify the two countries’ maritime entitlements and for a legally binding Code of Conduct to guide their behavior in disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea, but these actions should not hamper high-level dialogues like his meeting with Xi.
“We keep saying we want peaceful means to resolve it (sea dispute) consistent with international law... It’s been a while since we had this level of dialogue, so why not listen?” he told the Philippine media delegation on Tuesday.
“Maybe before we talk, we should see (things) in a good light rather than in a bad light until proven that it is not in good light,” he added.
Asked if it could be the start of reconciliation, Aquino said: “Well, the start at least probably, yes.”
“At least, it’s very clear that there is a start of a very high-level dialogue, which I think, from our side, is very much welcome because we do not want to concentrate on the disputes. We’d rather have a constructive way of resolving all of these and improving relationships with everybody,” he said.
“For instance, when there were travel advisories against us, we never retaliated with travel advisories against them. Because, I think, the record will show we have wanted to try and de-escalate all of the situations without compromising our principles or our rights,” he added.
Aquino said they also talked about finding constructive ways of resolving the dispute because Xi emphasized the need to preserve good relations spanning generations.
The Philippines would continue to cooperate and see where developments go from here.
“Well, ‘push’ is, I think, too strong a word. I don’t think anybody pushes China around. But at the endpoint, we will see up to where this will go. We will cooperate as long as it doesn’t (step), again, on our principles or our rights,” Aquino maintained.
He noted that many other aspects of the relationship with China like trade could be pursued while a resolution on the territorial row was being discussed.
“Our trade with China from 2012 to 2013 grew by 17 percent,” he said.
He also cited improvement in the people-to-people and tourism exchanges between the Philippines and China in the past two years.
“You can point out to so many facets that improved. To sum it up, maybe this (sea dispute) is really just the serious bone of contention,” he added.
Noy calls on ASEAN to start talks with China
Aquino flew to Myanmar on Tuesday night to attend the 25th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit.
In his speech at the plenary session of the summit, Aquino called on ASEAN member-countries to begin official negotiations with China on the forging of a legally binding Code of Conduct of parties involved in the South China Sea dispute.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told Manila-based reporters who covered the ASEAN summit that Aquino also “proposed a three-pronged approach towards building a Southeast Asia that serves as a wellspring of empowerment and inclusive growth.”
The three-pronged approach involves strengthening the foundations of regional cooperation and integration; developing and implementing economic strategies vital to ASEAN’s common vision; and advocating the rule of law as basis for positive engagement and a “stable regional environment.” – With Delon Porcalla
Read more on The Philippine Star