Xi in Manila as PH, China downplay sea row

MANILA, Philippines – Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Manila on Tuesday, November 17, as the Philippines and China vowed to downplay their sea dispute in a key regional summit here.

Xi, who landed in the Philippines past noon on Tuesday, was welcomed by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Philippine Ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio.

The Chinese president is in the Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting on November 18 to November 19.

Xi is billeted at the Century Park Hotel, owned by Filipino-Chinese tycoon Lucio Tan. State-owned China Central Television (CCTV) reported that the hotel underwent renovations in preparation for its special guest.

For his stay in the Philippines, both the Philippines and China agreed that the APEC Summit, a mainly economic event, is not the right venue to discuss the sea dispute.

In any case, a customary seating arrangement will allow Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Xi to meet and discuss bilateral issues between their countries.

China hosted APEC last year.

First in a decade

This Philippine trip makes Xi the first Chinese president to visit the Philippines in 10 years. 

Prior to Xi, the last Chinese president to visit the Philippines was Hu Jintao in April 2005, under then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom China reportedly views as more “receptive” to its commercial incentives. (READ: Why China prefers Arroyo over Aquino)

Xi’s visit comes as the Philippines and China remain locked in a dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

Manila filed a historic case against Beijing over this sea dispute.

The dispute heightened in April 2012 after a standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. 

The standoff brought the relationship between Manila and Beijing to its lowest point since the two countries established diplomatic relations 40 years ago, on June 9, 1975. (READ: Aquino’s ‘Nazi’ jab spoils PH-China ties’ 40th anniv) – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.