MANILA, Philippines—Amid the backdrop of the currently frosty relations between the Philippines and China, an apparently reluctant President Benigno Aquino III is flying to Nanning, China, on Sept. 3 to attend the 10th China-Asean Expo (Caexpo), during which Malacañang does not expect a meeting to take place between Mr. Aquino and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It will be a whirlwind trip for the President who said he will be leaving “at 5 a.m. and be back at 5 p.m.” the same day, as he did not want to “overstay” his welcome.
The Caexpo is held annually in China to promote the building of the China-Asean free trade area, and it is being hosted this year by the Philippines.
But Mr. Aquino will attend only the first day of the three-day event that will gather the heads of state and government of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China.
A Palace official said the fact that the Philippines is the host of the event was the only reason Mr. Aquino had decided to proceed with the trip.
“We are the host. Normally the head of government of the host country attends the expo,” said the official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk about the President’s trip to China, ruled out any bilateral meeting between Mr. Aquino and Xi on the sidelines of the regional summit, saying Mr. Aquino had “a very tight schedule.”
Asked about the significance of Mr. Aquino’s trip to China, the official said: “The significance (is that) despite everything, he’s attending it.”
By “everything,” the Palace official was referring to the territorial row between China and the Philippines over certain disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
A meeting between Mr. Aquino and Xi was not actively being sought by both sides since the territorial dispute was already being handled by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s arbitral tribunal, the official said.
As if to explain Mr. Aquino’s apparent reluctance to take part in the expo, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the agenda was primarily economic, hence the chances of talking with China on the West Philippine Sea dispute were very slim.