NEW YORK – Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday that he expected China to be “reasonable” over tense territorial disputes so long as Beijing is given a way to save face.
Aquino, who recently visited Beijing in a bid to ease high tensions over the resource-rich South China Sea, said it was crucial to try to understand the other side’s position and identify areas of agreement.
“In their particular case, the concept of saving face is (so) important,” Aquino said at the Asia Society in New York, which he is visiting to take part in the annual UN General Assembly.
“We think they will be reasonable, but they also need to have some means that their face is preserved,” Aquino said.
But Aquino stood by his position that China should reach an agreement with the full 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
“If we do it on a bilateral basis then we will just be exaggerating and exacerbating the problem of competing claims,” Aquino said.
ASEAN and China agreed in 2002 to work on a code of conduct for the sea but there has been little follow-up, with diplomats saying that a rising China wants to deal with the disputes individually with each nation.
Tensions spiked this year when the Philippines and Vietnam accused China of aggressive harassment of fishermen in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have claims.
While reaching out to China, Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos ($252 million) to upgrade the Philippine navy, whose flagship ship dates from World War II. The United States has offered assistance in arming the Philippines.
Tensions also rose between Manila and Beijing when China in March executed three Filipinos on drug charges in defiance of repeated appeals.
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