BEIJING, China – Philippine President Benigno Aquino and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao sought on Wednesday to cast aside months of hostility over territorial disputes as Aquino embarked on a state visit intended to boost economic cooperation.
Highlighting the emphasis on the business relationship, both sides pledged to double trade by 2016 to $60 billion.
Aquino told a trade forum in Beijing that the Philippines wanted to do more business with China as he seeks up to $7 billion worth of deals on his first official visit to the world’s second-biggest economy.
Aquino is on the first leg of a 4-day visit that Manila hopes will result in investments for big-ticket infrastructure projects.
Both sides worked hard to dispel bitterness that has plagued ties after a March flare-up in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as it is known by Filipinos. But there seemed to be no sign of a resolution.
Aquino’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, quoted Aquino as saying “that the West Philippine Sea issue is not the be all and end all” of bilateral relations.
“The president also mentioned the position of the Philippine government that because this is a regional problem, it requires a regional solution,” he said. “Both sides were very positive in addressing the issue on the South China Sea.”
Hu told Aquino that China’s stance on the issue “has been consistent and explicit”, Xinhua reported, suggesting that China was unlikely to give ground on the dispute.
During their talks, Hu said “China has always insisted that the South China Sea disputes should be resolved peacefully through consultation and negotiation between the two countries concerned”, according to Xinhua.
In the first few months of his administration, Aquino made an effort to avoid antagonizing China by declining an invitation to send a representative to attend December’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway honoring jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
But relations have soured following a series of disputes on issues including the execution of three Filipinos convicted of drug smuggling in China in March and tensions over rival claims in the oil-rich South China Sea.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea. China’s claim is the largest and includes the Spratly and Paracel islands.
The Philippines has been one of the loudest critics of China’s stance on the disputed territory. Manila has warned that it is taking steps to modernise its armed forces and that it could take the dispute to the United Nations.
The dispute has not prevented China becoming the third-biggest trade partner to the Philippines, with two-way trade of $27.7 billion in 2010, an increase of 35.1 percent from 2009.
China has leveraged its economic influence in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America to gain political dominance and blunt tensions with its rivals as it hunts for new sources of energy and raw materials.
The Philippines’ oil and gas resources are attractive to resource-hungry China. Manila said in early August that Chinese firms were interested in investing in 15 oil and gas exploration contracts worth at least $7.5 billion. .
Aquino will visit the commercial city of Shanghai, before heading to Xiamen in southeastern Fujian, where the family of his mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, has its roots.
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- Asia: South China Sea: Beijing and Manila summit worries Hanoi (Asia News) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Aquino Walks a Fine Line With China (Wall Street Journal) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Philippines, China talk trade despite tensions (Inquirer) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Pinoys in China hope Aquino will clarify Spratlys issue (GMA News) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)