China wants sea dispute issue out of Apec meeting

CHINA doesn't want the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) issue to be discussed during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Leaders Summit next week, its foreign minister said on Tuesday.

"They [China] expressed hope that the contentious issue will not be raised," Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said in a press briefing.

He added that the Philippines, taking it as China's reference to the West Philippine Sea issue, agreed that the "contentious issues" would not be raised during the Apec meeting.

"In the context of Apec, we both agreed Apec is an economic forum and it won't be the proper venue to discuss political security issues."

Jose added that since Manila has a pending arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, then it cannot discuss the West Philippine Sea issue.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held bilateral talks on Monday at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Wang is in the country for a one-day visit to discuss preparations for the Apec Economic Leaders Meeting on November 18 and 19, which Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend.

"On Apec, his main purpose of visit is to confirm with Philippine government officials regarding the preparations for Apec to ensure that President Xi Jinping's visit for Apec will be smooth, safe and successful," Jose said.

And although President Benigno Aquino III is scheduled to attend 11 bilateral meetings with Apec leaders, Jose said Xi was not included in that list.

"The door is always open for dialogue, but there is no specific mention that there will be one during the visit," he added.

Xi and Aquino would likely find themselves face-to-face during a photo opportunity because as last year's host, the Chinese premier would be positioned next to President Aquino.

"Maybe during the short time they are together, they are able to talk, but there is no agenda or arrangement for that," Jose said.

The department will announce the list of Mr. Aquino's bilateral meetings once it is finalized, he added.

He only confirmed the bilateral meeting with Vietnam, which is also a claimant to the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, and has supported the Philippines' arbitration case against China.

However, Jose said that it couldn't be helped if the maritime issue would be tackled during President Aquino's bilateral talks.

"Of course, at the bilateral meeting, we don't have a control about what other economies will be raising in [a] bilateral meeting."

This is Wang's first visit to the Philippines, and it happened amid rising tensions because of Beijing's reclamation projects in the West Philippine Sea.

Jose said the department has been made aware of Wang's visit even before China announced Xi would attend the Apec meeting.

During the bilateral talk, he said del Rosario recalled the "warm hospitality" received by Aquino when he attended the Apec leaders meeting last year in China.

"We are waiting for this opportunity to reciprocate that warm hospitality. We are committed to being a good host to all guests and we are endeavoring to ensure President Xi's visit will be safe, comfortable and productive," Jose said.

He added that according to the Foreign Affairs chief, "the visit itself is an indication that we can move the bilateral relations forward."

Meanwhile, Jose said the "most important outcome" of the one-hour meeting between Wang and del Rosario is that the two sides agreed to revive their foreign ministry consultations "to explore areas where we can move bilateral relations forward."

The consultation was born from an "understanding" between Aquino and former Chinese President Hu Jintao in September 2011 that "we will extract contentious issue, so we can move the other areas of bilateral relations forward."

The last foreign ministry consultation, which is at the vice ministerial level, happened in China in 2013, amid tensions caused by the maritime issues.

Jose said it is now the Philippines' turn to host the meeting, so they'll be reaching out to China on the most convenient time to do it.

The two sides can talk on a range of areas such as cultural exchanges, consular and tourism, among others.

Wang's visit came mere weeks after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled that it has jurisdiction on the case filed by the Philippines against China.

Beijing has refused to join the process while Manila, which calls the arbitration case a rules-based approach, prepares for the hearing to prove China's nine-dash line claim is invalid.

"We don't know when ruling will come out, so I think it would be on the interest of both sides to resume consultations as soon as possible," Jose said.

During the meeting, Wang also invited the Philippines to join its "One Belt, One Road" and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) policies.

The "One Belt, One Road" policy refers to the modernization of the historical Silk Road, Xi's ambitious plan to connect the land-based Silk Road and ocean-based Silk Road into a cohesive component that will facilitate trade and boost China's manufacturing and export industry.

On the other hand, the AIIB is a China-led initiative with billions of dollars in fund aimed at developing the infrastructure of Asia Pacific region.

Both policies are still under review by the Philippine government.

After the meeting, which Jose described as "positive, constructing and warm," Wang met Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and paid a courtesy call to Aquino. (CVB/Sunnex)

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