APEC seating arrangement to allow Aquino, Xi to meet

Paterno Esmaquel II
APEC seating arrangement to allow Aquino, Xi to meet
The Philippine and Chinese leaders can 'definitely' meet to discuss bilateral issues during the APEC summit, the event's organizer says

MANILA, Philippines – Thanks to a customary seating arrangement, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Chinese President Xi Jinping will have the opportunity to meet during a gathering of world leaders in the Philippines, the event’s organizer said.

“Oh yes, definitely,” said Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, head of the national organizing council for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila, when asked if there will be “an opportunity for them to meet briefly.”

In a news conference on Thursday, November 12, Paynor explained that the Aquino-Xi meeting is possible due to the so-called troika, “a normal practice among APEC economies” hosting the summit.

This practice allows this seating arrangement: The leader of the host economy sits in the middle, and on his either side would be the leaders of the previous and future hosts. 

China hosted the APEC Summit in November 2014, so that would mean Xi would sit beside Aquino in this troika. Peru is hosting the APEC Summit in 2016. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Tourists flock to China’s APEC site)

“Normally they are seated together, so the opportunity for (President Benigno Aquino) and President Xi Jinping will always be there, if they wish to talk about issues that are bilateral in nature,” Paynor said. (READ: Breakthrough: PH, China hold 1st meeting in 2 years)

It is unclear if this seating arrangement is for the whole APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting from November 18 to 19, or only for parts of it, such as a photo opportunity.

(Watch more in the video below)

Xi is visiting the Philippines from November 17 to 19 to attend the APEC Summit, as Manila and Beijing remain locked in a dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Aquino vows ‘hospitality’ toward Xi

In fact, days after the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, a powerhouse Philippine team is returning to The Hague, Netherlands, to present the merits of Manila’s historic case against Beijing.

The Philippines, however, is not expected to raise the sea dispute during the APEC Summit. 

Paynor told reporters on Monday, November 9, that the maritime row would be off the summit agenda.

“I will reiterate that when we meet at APEC, it’s all economic issues and we do not take up bilateral, specific bilateral issues in APEC,” Paynor added.

Aquino’s spokesman, Herminio Coloma Jr, said the Philippine president “welcomed the decision of President Xi Jinping to attend the APEC summit.”

Aquino also assured Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi “that it is in the culture of the Filipinos as hosts to make our guests feel the warmth of Filipino hospitality,” Coloma added.

The last time Aquino and Xi met was on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Beijing, China, in 2014.

That meeting was held for 10 minutes after a tree-planting ceremony in Beijing. 

Aquino said it was the Philippines’ first “direct contact with them” since he met with then Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2011.

The Philippine foreign ministry earlier said a second meeting between Aquino and Xi was “possible,” but Aquino said he will not raise the Philippines’ dispute with China during the APEC Summit. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.