China’s foreign minister Wang Yi visited the Philippines on Tuesday and met with President Benigno Aquino III ahead of the Pacific Rim leaders' summit next week. During his visit, Wang is expected to have discussed Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Philippines from Nov. 17 to Nov. 19 to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila amid increased tensions over the South China Sea dispute.
Wang also met Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario on Tuesday and is expected to have discussed how to improve relationships between the two countries. Wang and Rosario reportedly met for an hour, after which he hurried to the presidential palace to meet Aquino. Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said, according to the Associated Press (AP), that Aquino welcomed Xi’s decision to join the APEC summit and said that "the warmth of Filipino hospitality" will be there.
Aquino had earlier said, according to local newspaper Phil Star, that he is "very open" to discussing stability with China through a bilateral meeting. "All our governments are supposed to be there for the improvement of the lot of our people, improvement in their lives, and this can only happen if there's stability. So if there is a central message that would be that I would want to convey," Aquino had reportedly said.
Wang’s visit comes after an arbitration court in the Netherlands said last month that it has the jurisdiction to go through some of the territorial claims made by the Philippines against China’s moves in the disputed South China Sea. "The bilateral relationship is beset by difficulties due to reasons known to all," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Monday, according to AP, adding that China "attaches importance to its relationship with the Philippines and stays committed to properly resolving relevant issues through consultations and negotiations."
Hong also said, according to Phil Star: "It is hoped that the Philippine side will meet China halfway, implement the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries during last year's APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, constructively handle relevant issues and create atmosphere and conditions for the return of bilateral relations to the right course of development."
While reports speculated if both the countries will discuss the South China Sea dispute at the APEC summit, a Reuters report on Tuesday, citing Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong, said that there were no plans to discuss the territorial claims issue.
"Everyone knows that APEC is primarily about discussing trade and financial cooperation in the Asia Pacific," Li said, according to Reuters, adding: "As far as I know, at this year's summit, there are no plans to discuss the South China Sea."
The foreign ministers of China and the Philippines last met in 2013 in Beijing on the sidelines of the Southeast Asian foreign ministers' meeting. On Saturday Xi had promised to safeguard the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, amid increased tensions due to claims over the region by different nations and the patrol by a guided-missile destroyer, USS Lassen, within the 12-nautical-mile (22-kilometer) territorial limit of Subi Reef. The region has been claimed and expanded on by China despite objections from other Southeast Asian countries, mainly Philippines.
Over $5 trillion is trade passes through the South China Sea, which is being claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan.