MANILA, Philippines – The West Philippine Sea issue will likely be discussed during President Aquino’s state visit to China next week, but officials said the Philippines and China had “agreed to disagree” on the matter and would not allow it to affect bilateral relations.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asia and the Pacific Cristina Ortega, in a press briefing at Malacañang yesterday, said Aquino and Chinese President Hu Jintao would discuss the matter but not extensively.
“This will be a meeting between the two heads of state… Being a state visit, I don’t think that we will be there discussing the West Philippine Sea, saying to the other president this is ours and then, the other president would also say, no, this is ours. I don’t see them doing this because this is confrontational. We don’t want them to argue because they are heads of state,” Ortega said.
She said Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario already had a detailed discussion of the issue with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, during his recent visit to China.
“We have agreed to disagree because both countries are claiming areas, especially the Kalayaan Group in the South China Sea and the Recto Bank,” she said.
Ortega added that both parties “agreed to open the lines of communication and that we will go on talking to each other.”
She said it is unlikely that there will be a special agreement on the West Philippine Sea, considering that a settlement of territorial or maritime disputes is not very easy to get.
“And because this is a problem of the Asia Pacific region, then the answer would be multilateral or a regional answer, “ she said.
But she said the dispute will be part of the joint statement between the Philippines and China, which would be released after the state visit.
“That will be crafted during and right after the state visit to China so we don’t know yet. I don’t think we can preempt the joint statement but I would assume that there would be a line or two on the West Philippine Sea,” Ortega said.
The joint statement would be one of the six agreements to be signed during the President’s China visit. The other five agreements are the Philippines-China Five-Year Development Program for Trade and Economic Cooperation, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Presidential Communications Operation Office and State Council Information Office on Friendly Exchanges, MOU on Sports Cooperation, and Implementing Program on the MOU on Tourism and Exchange of Letters on the Executive Program of the Philippines-China Cultural Agreement.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchao confirmed that the dispute will be taken up in an “appropriate way” and “in good faith” during the President’s visit.
“South China Sea is an issue that concerns both of our two countries but it’s only just one issue that concerns us, so I think this issue will be discussed but it will be positioned in an appropriate way,” Liu said in a press conference.
He said the two sides will proceed in the spirit of trying to avoid the issue affecting the general development of the overall relationship between China and the Philippines.
“I’m not too sure how the two presidents will be discussing this issue, but I’m sure that they will discuss this issue in good faith and that the issue will not affect the general relationship,” he added.
He said the dispute over the West Philippine Sea is just a part of the wide-ranging relationship between the two countries and should not impair the development of ties.
He said efforts to further expand cooperation and strengthen people-to-people exchanges are the “major part of the trip.”
The ambassador earlier said China had conveyed to the Philippines that it would like to have a positive response from the Philippine side on the issue of joint cooperation in the disputed area.
“I’m sure that this issue will be discussed. I know it has been there for decades but the visit will further enhance the understanding of the leaders of the two governments,” Liu said.
He said the joint development of the South China Sea was put forward by the Chinese government since 1985, and proposed by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to the late Vice President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Salvador Laurel.
“And since then we’ve been working with other claiming parties about the possibility of such a joint exploration and development, so we do hope this will materialize as soon as possible because we do believe this is the best way for the claiming parties to have opportunities of cooperation rather than engaging in any kind of conflict,” Liu said.
Liu said Aquino’s visit will be significant because it will be his first state visit to mainland China and a non-ASEAN country. The state visit is scheduled on Aug. 30 to Sept. 3.
He said the President will be in Beijing for three nights to meet top Chinese leaders and the business community, and have a tour of the city. The President will then proceed to Shanghai to meet local officials, business community leaders and leading Philippine companies there, and proceed to Xiamen, where he is expected to interact with the villagers where his ancestors came from.
Noy to promote Phl as tourist, business hub
Ortega said the President is also expected to promote the Philippines as a business destination, as the government aims to raise up to $60 billion in investments from China until 2016.
The government is also eyeing at least two million tourists from China by 2016.
Ortega said $1.5 billion to $2 billion in investments had already been firmed up under the five-year trade and economic development plan between the Philippines and China until 2016.
“That would be included in the five-year plan. Just like we are hoping that there will be ($60 billion in investments) by 2016. So that is the target. We always have targets and we won’t have this target if it would not be possible. We will work hard but I think it could be done,” Ortega said.
She said 200 to 250 business people from the Philippines would be joining the President to explore opportunities in Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen.
“We have a luncheon with the Chinese economic policy makers, policy banks and regulators with the President. Following that, we will have one-on-one meetings with individual Chinese businessmen. These businessmen are those that are really interested in doing business in the Philippines and hopefully most of them would be engaged in the PPP (Public Private Partnership) projects that we are offering,” Ortega said.
She said the President would likewise meet with the Filipino communities in China but would not likely make a pitch for Filipinos in detention, although an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons was being worked out as well as stronger cooperation against human trafficking and drug smuggling.
The President said he would also bring up the shelved NorthRail project with Beijing.
“We’re hoping that we will move forward on the NorthRail and other issues,” Aquino told reporters in an ambush interview after welcoming the BRP Gregorio del Pilar at Pier 15, South Harbor in Manila on Tuesday.
The 80-kilometer railroad, a flagship program of the Arroyo administration, will link the northern flank of Metro Manila with the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at the Clark free port in Pampanga.
From an original budget of $421 million, the NorthRail project cost has now gone up to $621 million.
The DOTC earlier suspended the contract for the NorthRail project with Sinomach (formerly China National Machinery and Equipment Corp.) due to its slow progress and cost overruns.