MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese government has asked the Philippines to send a high-level delegation to its annual international trade fair in southern China but the Philippine government has not confirmed if President Benigno Aquino III would lead the Filipino contingent, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday.
“There is no official announcement yet if he will attend,” said Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson, on Wednesday.
Hernandez made the clarification following a report saying the President had indeed decided to head the Philippine delegation to the China-Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo set in September in Nanning, capital of southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
“The invitation to the Philippines was to send high-level officials. It was not directed to the President,” Hernandez said in a brief interview on Wednesday.
He said there has been no confirmation that Philippine and Chinese officials would hold bilateral talks on the side, a rare and highly anticipated meeting amid tensions due to disputes over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The Philippines has haled China to the United Nations arbitral tribunal in hopes of invalidating the Chinese nine-dash line, which the DFA believes is an “excessive” declaration of maritime territory. The legal action also aims to stop Chinese incursions into the established Philippine exclusive economic zone, currently continuing with sea patrols and fishery trips to the country’s claimed shoals.
Traditionally, Asean member countries would send their respective prime ministers or premieres to the trade fair, the DFA said. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to lead the event, according to the DFA.
This year, the Philippines is the country of honor in the international trade fair, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of China-Asean ties. The trade expo, which brings together exhibitors from around China and Asean member states, seeks to strengthen economic ties within the region.
The Philippine Embassy in Beijing earlier said trade between China and the Asean has been on the uptrend, registering a 10-fold growth in the last decade from $50 billion (P2.2 trillion) to $500 billion (P22 trillion).
In 2012, Aquino sent Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, then still Vice President, on the sides of the 9th Nanning expo. The two leaders were known to have taken “divergent” positions during the meeting.
Manila and Beijing have been engaged in tense exchanges over the territorial dispute in recent months, in particular in a closed door meeting during the Asean ministerial meetings in Brunei in June.
Del Rosario earlier invited Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to visit Manila and sit down for talks. He has yet to respond to the invitation but made a swing through Southeast Asia earlier this month, visiting Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.