Philippine President Benigno Aquino will send a "special envoy" to China in an effort to meet the nation's presumed next leader for talks over the South China Sea dispute, his spokesman said yesterday. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas would lead a delegation to a five-day trade expo in Nanning starting today, which Vice-President Xi Jinping was also set to attend, spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. "We are hoping that we are able to meet with the vice-president," Lacierda said. The foreign department was arranging the meeting, he said. The latest effort for top-level talks comes after Aquino failed to secure a meeting with President Hu Jintao at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Russia this month. Aquino had hoped to discuss with Hu the countries' competing claims in the South China Sea but a tentative meeting did not happen. "The president has given his approval to Secretary Roxas to relay to the [Chinese] vice-president what President Aquino wanted to relay to President Hu Jintao," Lacierda said. Xi is widely expected to succeed Hu as leader of the Communist Party at the upcoming national congress, then take over as president in March next year. Roxas' appointment came after the Manila government acknowledged on Wednesday that it used a senator in back-channel talks with Beijing to ease bilateral tensions. However, the tactic appeared to backfire domestically after the senator, Antonio Trillanes, publicly criticised the Philippines' chief negotiator in the dispute, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, calling him "treasonous". Lacierda conceded Trillanes' public comments over the back-channel talks had created problems. "This is an unnecessary nuisance," Lacierda said. Mainland 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 vital shipping lanes. But the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea, some of them overlapping. Sino-Philippine tensions escalated dramatically in April when vessels from the two countries became engaged in a stand-off in Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island in Chinese.