File photo by Gil Nartea/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau
MANILA, Philippines – It is “unusual.” It is “inimical to our national interest.” And, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said, it can be embarrassing for Beijing.
Dropping these hints, the DFA on Monday, September 2, disclosed a back story to President Benigno Aquino III’s cancelled trip to China: a set of conditions that Aquino rejected to defend “the country’s national interest.”
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters: “There were subsequent concerns and conditions for the President’s attendance, and such conditions were absolutely inimical to our national interest. To avoid embarrassment on the Chinese side, we will not state these conditions, but you may wish to address this specific question to Her Excellency Ambassador Ma Keqing.”
“The President stood firm in the defense of the country’s national interest,” Hernandez added.
The DFA last Thursday, August 29, said Aquino cancelled his attendance in the 10th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) in Nanning, China on September 3 because of China’s request. This is “for the President to visit China at a more conducive time,” Hernandez said.
The “unusual request" came over a month after the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) began to hear the Philippines’ unprecedented case against China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
'Not for public'
On Monday, Hernandez added that at least 3 Chinese Foreign Ministry sources relayed these "concerns and conditions" to the Philippines.
"We were advised that these conditions should not be made public, and should not be discussed at the ministerial level. Given the unusual request and the importance of the issue involving our President, it was necessary for the conditions to be confirmed by our two foreign ministers at the meeting in Beijing last Wednesday, August 28, 2013," he said, without elaborating.
Hernandez asserted that China indeed invited Aquino to the CAEXPO. He said the usual practice, after all, "is for the leader of the country of honor to be present."
He said ASEAN countries had "strongly" urged the Philippines to send Aquino, to highlight the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-China strategic partnership in 2013.
"Although the President does not need to be specifically invited, the document we have on the DFA website will show that he was, in fact, invited," Hernandez said.
The Chinese Embassy has not commented on the DFA's latest statement, as of posting time.
In a statement last Thursday, August 29, however, China said it wants "to overcome difficulties and disturbances" in its relations with the Philippines.
"China values the long-standing friendship between the Chinese and the Philippines, and attaches importance to developing the bilateral relations. Under the current circumstances, China hopes the Philippine side could work together with the Chinese side to overcome difficulties and disturbances, and make real efforts to get the China-Philippines relationship back to the track of sound and stable development," the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.