PH, China talk but avoid Scarborough
(UPDATED) MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines and China avoided their territorial dispute in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) in the first formal talks in Manila since the standoff over Scarborough Shoal.
"Filipinos are a reasonable people and that the Philippines aspires for a peaceful and stable region," President Benigno Aquino III said in a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) statement after meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying in Malacañang Palace on Friday, October 19.
Aquino added that he Philippines "has been fostering a conducive atmosphere so that both sides can come to a mutually beneficial solution to issues of mutual concern."
Fu extended to the President the message from his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao that "China places great importance and value to the long-standing friendship with the Philippines."
The Chinese diplomat said in another statement that the two sides "had candid and in-depth discussions on the issues existing in their relations and agreed to (...) properly address differences so as to avoid negative impact.".
Neither side mentioned the row over Scarborough Shoal or any other contentious issue in the South China Sea.
Fu meets DFA officials
Prior to her courtesy call on Aquino, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister held talks with DFA Undersecretary for Policy Erlina Basilio under the during the 18th Foreign Ministry Consultations (FMC) between both countries.
"We have reviewed our bilateral relations (...) It was a good meeting, very friendly on both sides," Basilio told reporters after the meeting but again avoided any reference to Scarborough Shoal.
Fu later had a separate meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.
Pressed by reporters, Del Rosario explained after the meeting that "the agreement was that we would abstract the contentious issues."
"Bottom line is, we have agreed to disagree," he said in reference to the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Backdoor channel ignored
Prior to the meetings in Manila, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Beijing hopes that with the new round of high-level talks China and the Philippines will "move towards each other" and take "practical steps to make new progress" in their bilateral relations.
The last FMC was held in Beijing in January, 4 months before the Philippines and China escalated their territorial dispute over Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
In the past few weeks, tensions have softened since Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas met Chinese Vice President and leader-in waiting Xi Jinping a month ago in Nanning, China.
This will also the first time that Del Rosario met a top Chinese official since Sen Antonio Trillanes IV revealed he was acting as backdoor negotiator with China, keeping the DFA chief out of the loop.
Trillanes' revelation triggered a spat with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who chided the former rebel soldier for announcing clandestine backchannel efforts.
Enrile met on Thursday with Fu, whom he knows from the time she was ambassador to the Philippines from 1992 to 2000, but but neither Scarborough Shoal nor Trillanes -- whom Fu allegedly met during the secret talks -- were discussed. - Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse