China snubs Philippine president over visit to Nanning expo

President urged to visit China at more conducive time; trade minister to go instead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 5:09am

China has asked Philippine President Benigno Aquino to postpone a visit next week for the opening of a trade fair, Manila said yesterday, an unprecedented snub by Beijing as relations sour over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

"China's request was for the president to visit China at a more conducive time," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told the South China Morning Post in reply to whether Aquino had been specifically asked to drop his China visit.

Hernandez said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi relayed the request to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday night, hours after President Aquino himself announced his trip to Nanning to head the delegation to the China-Asean Expo, where the Philippines is this year's "country of honour".

Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo will represent the president at the September 3-6 event, said Hernandez, who was among Asean foreign ministers in Beijing for a meeting with the Chinese foreign minister.

China's Foreign Ministry told Reuters it had never invited Aquino in the first place.

In a statement to the Post, the Foreign Ministry added: "The Philippines should work with China to remove difficulties and disturbances, and make concrete efforts for resuming the healthy and stable development of the Sino-Philippine relationship."

Hernandez said: "The president has decided not to proceed to CAEXPO taking into consideration China's request … On the part of the Philippines, we will continue to abide by our principled position that bilateral relations can advance despite differences."

The president announced his China trip at the start of a speech at his office in Malacanang Palace. "I will leave at 5am, I will return at 5pm [because] we don't want to overstay our welcome there," he said.

Du Jifeng , an expert in Southeast Asian affairs at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was rare for Beijing to reject visits by foreign leaders. "It indicates that Beijing is increasingly frustrated with Manila," Du said.

Professor Su Hao , of China Foreign Affairs University, said: "Beijing gave a high reception to Aquino two years ago, and the two nations signed many deals. But Aquino put up tough rhetoric against China as soon as he was back home."

Additional reporting by Reuters