China urges Philippines to mend relations after island row

Leader-in-waiting tells Philippine envoy he hopes relations can improve after easing of tensions over Scarborough Shoal stand-off

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 3:07am

Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping has told a visiting Philippine envoy that he hopes ties hurt by a territorial row can recover, Xinhua said yesterday.

Vice-President Xi told Philippine Interior Secretary Mar Roxas that tensions between the two countries had "eased" after a blow-up over a disputed island in the South China Sea, the state news agency reported.

Trouble flared in April when vessels from the two countries became engaged in a stand-off over Scarborough Shoal. China calls the rocky outcrop Huangyan Island while the Philippines refers to it as Panatag Shoal.

Both sides later agreed to withdraw their boats, defusing some of the tension.

"I hope this [situation] will not appear again and again, allowing bilateral relations to return to the track of normal development," Xinhua quoted Xi as telling the special envoy of Philippine President Benigno Aquino at a trade fair in Nanning , Guanxi province , on Friday.

"China-Philippine relations have encountered some difficulties. However, through effective communication between the two sides, the situation has already eased," Xi said during the Asean-China Expo fair.

In Manila, a government statement quoted Roxas as saying the two had had "a frank and candid exchange of views".

It said both sides "expressed their desire to resolve outstanding issues while moving forward with their bilateral relations".

"Discussions were constructive and the talks were conducted in a cordial atmosphere," Roxas added.

The talks came after Aquino failed to secure a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) meeting in Russia earlier this month.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, is a rich fishing ground and is home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.

But the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea, some of them overlapping.

Aquino in May asked Senator Antonio Trillanes, a former navy lieutenant, to negotiate with China during a stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal involving more than 30 vessels that ended in June.

Aquino said on Friday that Trillanes' secret talks with China helped ease tensions in a flare-up of the long-running territorial dispute.

The secret talks came to light after Trillanes announced on Wednesday he was withdrawing support for Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and joining the opposition bloc in the 28-member body.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg in Manila