Philippines hoping China ties will improve

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 3:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 3:18pm

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on Wednesday he hoped “ultra-nationalist” sentiment in China would ease after a leadership change next month and thereby help to resolve a maritime row.

Tensions over competing claims to parts of the South China Sea escalated in April this year when ships from the two countries became locked in a standoff over a tiny group of islets called Scarborough Shoal.

As diplomatic relations plummeted, the Philippines accused China of “duplicity” and “intimidation” in pressing its claims to the South China Sea.

Some organs of China’s state-run media also called for war against the Philippines, while the Chinese government established a new city and military garrison overseeing disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Aquino said the domestic pressures in China ahead of its once-in-a-decade transition of power had affected efforts to improve diplomatic relations to a level seen before the dispute flared.

“We hope these domestic pressures on China will be lessened after the transition so we will have more to negotiate and discuss in more reasonable terms and less ultra-nationalist terms,” Aquino told reporters.

Aquino said there had already been “a very gradual warming up” of relations between the two countries, which he said would hopefully continue after the leadership transition.

“We are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.

The deputy foreign ministers of the two countries will meet in Manila on Friday for discussions on how to improve ties.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries. The Philippines says the Scarborough Shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected to hand over power as head of the ruling Communist Party to Vice President Xi Jinping during a congress starting on November 8. But Hu will remain the country’s president until next March.