MANILA, Philippines (AFP) – Philippine President Benigno Aquino named two “special envoys” to China on Wednesday, May 16, amid a tense territorial dispute between the two countries over a shoal in the South China Sea.
In their appointment papers, Aquino ordered veteran banker Cesar Zalamea and Filipino-Chinese business leader Domingo Lee to promote friendly exchanges between the two governments and help Philippine officials visiting China.
During their six-month assignment both were also tasked to actively “persuade greater numbers of Chinese tourists to make the Philippines their main destination for leisure and relaxation trips.”
Aquino however failed to name an ambassador of China, a post that remains vacant even as the two countries are locked in a tense stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal, with both sides posting ships in the area since April 8 to assert their sovereignty.
Aquino had nominated Lee, a close family friend, as ambassador last year but parliament blocked him on the grounds he lacked experience in diplomacy.
In recent weeks, the Chinese have impounded bananas from the Philippines and warned their tourists about visiting the country, raising fears that Beijing may use economic measures to put pressure on Manila.
The shoal sits about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon. The nearest major Chinese landmass is 1,200 kilometers northwest of the shoal, according to Philippine navy maps.
China claims the shoal along with most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its Asian neighbors while the Philippines claims the shoal as being well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. – Agence France-Presse