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Aquino, Li hold dialogue
Publication Date : 11-10-2013
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang shook hands and shared thoughts from Confucius in a chance encounter at the 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit.
Aquino told reporters on Wednesday night that he had a “dialogue in passing” with Li.
“[That’s] a lot better than [if] we avoided each other,” Aquino said.
The president said the Asean leaders and other officials were in the holding room with their dialogue partners when Li arrived.
“When he arrived, I shook his hand. He shook mine. Then he said his piece, I said my piece. Before the [gala] dinner, we had a dialogue that was a substantial change from what had been publicly stated. Hopefully, it’s a little clearer as to what each party means,” he said. Aquino declined to disclose what he and Li talked about.
“Can we just be more careful [so that] I don’t add more stress to the relationship?” he said.
Words from Confucius
But he said that in reply to Li’s statement at the 16th Asean-China Summit on Wednesday, he quoted Confucius in the presence of Li.
“Confucius’ [version] is more elegant. But basically, it is like, ‘Action speaks louder than words,’” he said.
Reporters learned on Thursday that the Confucian saying is, “The superior man acts before he speaks and afterward speaks according to his action.”
The Asean Summit closed on Thursday, with Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah handing over the chairmanship to President Thein Sein of Burma (Myanmar).
President Aquino left after the official closing ceremonies, with the presidential plane taking off from Brunei International Airport at 6:35pm.
At the Asean Summit and other related meetings, Aquino repeatedly emphasised the need for the completion of a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea
By all accounts, China appeared to be more open to a multilateral approach in resolving its territorial disputes with Asean members in the West Philippine Sea.
“There is a renewed sense of understanding that this is an issue that must be addressed through diplomatic means,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told Filipino reporters here.
That understanding was evident in the mood and atmosphere in the meetings with China, Natalegawa said.
He said there was no debate, even whether the code of conduct should be discussed.
In last year’s Asean Summit, President Aquino called out Cambodia’s President Hun Sen for removing the code of conduct discussion from the agenda.
This time around, Natalegawa said that “essentially, the focus is how to ensure progress in the code of conduct between China and Asean countries”.
“What we need to be working on now is to ensure that there is no gap between what is being said and what is actually happening on the sea or on the ground, and this is why the [code of conduct] is very important to ensure that we have certain expectations on how we behave at sea and that there are no misunderstandings and miscalculations,” Natalegawa said.
The Philippines appeared to have scored a victory at the 16th Asean-China Summit in its pursuit of a multilateral approach in resolving the territorial disputes.
China had always insisted on one-on-one talks with its rivals to resolve the territorial row.
Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim territories in the sea, home to rich fishing grounds and where islets, reef and atolls are believed to be sitting on vast energy reserves.
In a joint statement issued after the close of the Asean-China Summit, the leaders reaffirmed a commitment to following recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in resolving the territorial disputes.
“We remain committed to resolving disputes peacefully in accordance with international law without resorting to threat or use of force,” the leaders said.
The statement included the leaders’ reiteration to their “commitment and strong determination to fully and effectively implement the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) in all its aspects.”
“In this regard, we will work toward the conclusion of a COC (code of conduct) on the basis of consensus,” they said.
“We will continue to strengthen the implementation of the DOC and maintain the momentum of the regular official consultations and work toward the adoption of the COC, as provided for by the DOC, so as to enhance confidence and mutual trust, and maintain peace, stability and prosperity in the region, among others,” they said.
The leaders supported the development of hot line communications that will allow a quick response to “situations at sea.”
President Aquino said the Philippines decided not to file a protest against China over Beijing’s laying concrete blocks in Panatag Shoal (Scarbourough Shoal) off the coast of Zambales province after it was discovered that the blocks appeared to be old.
He said there were already barnacles on the blocks, which indicated that they have been there for some time.
Despite the absence of US President Barack Obama from the Asean meetings, Aquino said the United States was seen as a “stabilising factor” in the region amid China’s rising economic and military power.
Obama cancelled his attendance at the Asean meetings in Bali and Brunei because of the US government shutdown.
US Secretary of State John Kerry took his place at the meetings, assuring the region that the US “rebalancing” to Asia is a "commitment”.
Kerry supported Asean in pressing China for the conclusion of a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea and called on the bloc’s members and China to cooperate in resolving territorial disputes in the sea peacefully.
Asked about the role of the United States in the future of Asean, which aims to integrate as a single economy by 2015, Aquino said: “They are rebalancing and they’re shifting, pivoting to our area. They’re getting involved [with Asean countries].”
Aquino explained that the US involvement with Asean is expected, as Asia, Asean in particular, is the “growth engine for the world economy.”
So, he said, “they’re linking their future, their economic future, closer to us—‘us’ means this entire region.” - With a report from Michael Lim Ubac