S China Sea: PRC Unwelcomes Philippine President

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 9/01/2013 09:58:00 AM
All China's hard work building economic ties with Southeast Asia is now in peril: Hot on the heels of the Philippines taking China to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) against China's wishes--the PRC has constantly reiterated that it wants to solve the maritime dispute bilaterally--comes this latest blow to China-Philippine relations. Not only are there obvious legal complications to the Philippines unilaterally calling for arbitration which is usually called for by both parties, but rousing the ire of China may have negative economic repercussions.

China has what I call a petulant brand of diplomacy over maritime disputes. If it doesn't get its way, it throws a tantrum seemingly unbecoming of a would-be challenger to American hegemony. Simply, it doesn't stay cool. This is especially true in China's willingness to let security-related tussles spill over into the economic sphere. Witness it boycotting last year's annual World Bank/IMF meetings which were being held in Tokyo as trouble over the East China Sea resurfaced.

Now to the snub: Since 2003, part of China's charm offensive aimed at Southeast Asia aside from concluding an FTA with ASEAN has been hosting the CAExpo trade fair for encouraging Chinese foreign investment in Southeast Asia (see image above). In past years it has been customary for the head of state of the "country of honour" to go to China. This year the Philippines has this designation, and its president scheduled a trip to the Middle Kingdom despite strained ties. However, the Chinese recently rolled back the red(s) carpet, telling him he has was not welcome:
When MalacaƱang [the Philippine president's residence] got word on Wednesday that it was not a “conducive time” to set foot in Chinese soil, President Aquino, who was supposed to attend a trade fair and business conference in the southern Chinese city of Nanning, changed his mind and backed off. “The President has decided not to proceed to Caexpo (China-Asean Expo), taking into consideration China’s request for him to visit the country at a more conducive time,” said Raul Hernandez, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs...

China’s request was relayed to Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario late Wednesday, he said.Amid China’s apparent snub of President Aquino, Del Rosario is choosing to stay calm. Del Rosario yesterday opted to hold back in reacting to China’s decision to virtually uninvite Mr. Aquino from attending the regional trade expo as he still hoped to save the relationship between Manila and Beijing.
He admitted, however, that exercising such restraint is tough, considering the gravity of what happened. “For the sake of preserving our relations with China, I think it is best to limit our remarks to what had previously been stated,” Del Rosario told the Inquirer via text message yesterday. “As may be evident, we are all having the greatest of difficulties in exercising restraint for what they had done to our President,” said the official.
It's partly a demonstration of China's growing economic clout that the Philippines is still sending a sizeable delegation hoping to drum up business, but how exactly would you interpret your president being declared persona non grata in China affecting prospects for attracting investment? The symbolism is not promising.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that Philippine officials were aghast at China's two conditions for allowing Aquino to visit China, including withdrawal of its arbitration case at ITLOS:
Two Philippine officials told The Associated Press that China wanted Manila to withdraw a U.N. arbitration case over disputed islands in the South China Sea. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Chinese officials have also cited a new standoff between China and the Philippines over the Second Thomas Shoal, which is called Ayungin Shoal by Filipinos and Ren’ai Reef by the Chinese, the Philippine officials said. China has asked Manila to remove a navy ship that ran aground on the shoal years ago, but the Philippine officials said the area was well within their territorial waters.
This could be true or hearsay; at the end of the day, the fact remains that the Chinese told the Philippine president to stay home.