Philippine President Benigno Aquino III met with China’s Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying in the Palace yesterday as both countries looked forward to warmer relations amid a still unresolved territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Fu, in Manila for the 18th Foreign Ministry Consultations between the Philippines and China, paid a courtesy call on the President at around 2:30pm yesterday.
“Hopefully it will contribute to us moving forward,” Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, told reporters in a briefing before the call, pointing out that the meeting was held in a year of friendly exchanges between the two countries.
The Palace deferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to disclose details of the Aquino-Fu meeting.
In the morning, Fu called on Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and cohosted the consultations with Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio. It was the first official high-level talks between the two countries since a maritime dispute erupted in April.
In her statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Manila, Fu said she and her Philippine officials exchanged views on China-Philippines relations and issues of common interest in a constructive atmosphere.
“The two sides had candid and in-depth discussions on the issues existing in their relations and agreed to maintain the dialogue and properly address differences, so as to avoid negative impact on the bilateral cooperation,” she said.
Fu, who came to Manila on the invitation of the DFA, said both China and the Philippines “see each other as important neighbours who share a long history of friendly exchanges.”
She said she and her counterparts agreed that continued China-Philippine cooperation “serves the interests of the two countries.”
The two sides, she said, also agreed to work together to implement the consensus reached between leaders of the two countries and promote bilateral exchanges at all levels and cooperation in the areas of economy and trade, science and technology, law enforcement and people-to-people links.
The Chinese official also said efforts should be made to follow up on the exchange programmes under the “Years of Friendly Exchanges (2012-2013),” adding “The two sides will make joint endeavours to forge a common path towards healthy and stable development of China-Philippine relations.”
Fu said she also met senior Philippine lawmakers, government officials, and some old friends “to renew our friendship and discuss matters of cooperation.”
Tensions between the countries flared up in April when Philippine and Chinese ships became locked in a standoff at the Panatag Shoal, a group of coral and rock formations in the South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, including islets which are believed to sit atop vast reserves of oil and gas and have abundant fishing grounds, which is a vital shipping lane.
The Philippines, Brunei Malaysia and Vietnam, and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.
Two days before Fu’s visit, the president said there was a “little bettering of situation” with Beijing over the shoal but was far from normal. He hoped the relations would get warmer during the transition of Chinese leadership.
Both the Philippines and China have dispatched envoys in recent months to break the impasse over the shoal.
After failing to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Russia early September, Aquino later sent Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II to meet with Chinese leader-in-waiting Vice President Xi Jinping.
TJ Burgonio and Jerome Aning
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