Manila: China's top diplomat today asked the Philippines not to raise contentious issues - an obvious reference to the Asian neighbors' territorial spats - in an annual economic summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Manila next week, a Filipino official said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's request, relayed to his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario during talks in Manila, underscored Beijing's objection to any effort to bring the long-raging disputes to an international arena, where rivals like Washington could use it to criticize Beijing.
Non-inclusion of the thorny topic would also shield Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is expected to attend the November 18-19 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Manila, from a potentially embarrassing confrontation.
"They said they hope that contentious issues will not be raised during APEC," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said in a news conference, when asked if the disputes were discussed in Wang's hour-long talk with del Rosario.
Wang also mentioned that his Manila visit was to ensure that Xi's visit "will be smooth, safe and successful," Jose said.
Wang also met President Benigno Aquino III in the first visit by a top Chinese official to Manila since the two Asian neighbors' relations soured in the last three years due to overlapping claims in the South China Sea, a regional conflict that involves four other Asian governments, whose leaders are attending the Manila meetings.
Aquino said he welcomed Xi's decision to join the meetings and promised "the warmth of Filipino hospitality," according to presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma.
The Philippines, Jose said, agreed that the meetings in Manila would not be the proper forum to discuss the conflicts, adding that Manila has a pending legal challenge against Beijing's massive claims in the South China Sea before an international tribunal in The Hague.
"In the context of APEC, we both agreed that APEC is an economic forum and it won't be a proper venue to discuss political and security issues," Jose said.
Asked if other leaders can raise the thorny issue, Jose said they can.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Monday that the "bilateral relationship is beset by difficulties due to reasons known to all."
But he said that China "attaches importance to its relationship with the Philippines and stays committed to properly resolving relevant issues through consultations and negotiations."
China has criticized last week's patrol of the USS Lassen, a UN Navy guided-missile destroyer, within the 12-nautical- mile territorial limit of Subi Reef, which has been transformed by Beijing into an island over objections of other claimants, particularly the Philippines.