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Party stalwart now Philippine president's top man to China

Publication Date : 21-09-2012

 

Philippine President Benigno Aquino yesterday sent Liberal Party stalwart and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II to China to meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the country’s leader-in-waiting, in what the Palace said was part of a diplomatic initiative to build on the “thawing” of ties with Beijing.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recommended that Roxas lead the Philippine delegation as Aquino’s special envoy to the five-day 9th China-Asean Expo in China’s southern city of Nanning, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Lacierda said the DFA was arranging the meeting with Xi. “We are hoping that we will be able to meet with the vice president,” said Lacierda, who is part of the delegation.

The announcement of the Roxas mission followed an unprecedented tussle in the Senate over the conduct of negotiations with China on Wednesday between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV—the same day the Inquirer reported that Trillanes, as Aquino’s backroom negotiator with Beijing, had sparked a tempest in the DFA.

Enrile accused Trillanes of being a “traitor” to the country for allegedly pushing Chinese interests, citing a purported report on August 17 by Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady about her conversation with Trillanes.

DFA-recommended

One of the items in the report Enrile read referred to a supposed recommendation by Trillanes that Aquino make Roxas an alternate channel for direct communications with the President in the negotiations with China. However, Lacierda stressed that the Roxas mission was recommended by the DFA.

Roxas, who left Thursday, said he expected to meet Friday with Xi, who is widely expected to succeed Chinese President Hu Jintao as leader of China’s ruling Communist Party at its anticipated national congress soon. Xi is expected to take over as president in March next year.

Roxas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that China had sought the meeting.

Asked about his message to Xi, Roxas said: “Without going into specifics, the message pertains to current outstanding issues.” He was obviously referring to the standoff over Panatag Shoal (Scarbourough Shoal) since April when the Philippine Navy attempted to stop Chinese fishermen from poaching endangered marine life.

The meeting comes amid a “thawing” of the country’s relations with China, according to Roxas, echoing the Palace pronouncement on Wednesday in the wake of disclosures that Trillanes had more than a dozen meetings with officials at different levels in the Chinese government as Aquino’s back-channel negotiator.

Roxas is expected to discuss matters pertaining to Philippine-China relations, including the dispute in the West Philippine Sea, a territory falling within the Philippine exclusive economic zone but is being contested by China, Lacierda indicated.

“It will certainly be a discussion on a higher level. So certainly we would view this as a positive development, in a positive light,” he said.
Before his departure yesterday, Roxas was briefed by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on the nuts and bolts of the testy relationship with China, Lacierda said.

Positive aspects

One crucial issue to be highlighted by Roxas, a former senator and trade secretary, during the high-level meeting is the tendency to view the bilateral relation from a one-dimensional point of view.

“That’s one of the things that (Roxas) would convey that, as important as the outstanding issues are, there are other facets to Philippine-China relations that are working positively,” said a Palace official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the fine points of the President’s message to be conveyed by Roxas to Xi.

The Palace official said that although the “occasion involves trade issues, the message has to do with territory and other bilateral issues.”

Briefing reporters at the Palace, Lacierda explained that Roxas would relay to Xi what Aquino would have wanted to tell outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao during a scheduled meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit on September 8 that was scrapped at the last minute.

“Remember, the President was not able to meet with President Hu Jintao. And so the President has given his approval to Secretary Mar Roxas to relay to the Vice President what President Aquino wanted to relay to President Hu Jintao.”

Unnecessary nuisance

Lacierda denied that the president’s decision to handpick one of his most trusted Cabinet members to represent him was an offshoot of the political storm that triggered a statement by Del Rosario that suggested activities by Trillanes were torpedoing his initiatives.

Trillanes, a former Navy lieutenant who was incarcerated for nearly seven years for leading a failed coup attempt in 2003, has accused Del Rosario of incompetence and called the foreign secretary a “war freak” for seeking the involvement of the United States in the standoff with China. Trillanes claimed his efforts eased tensions between Manila and Beijing.

“This is an unnecessary nuisance,” Lacierda said of the Enrile-Trillanes fight.

Del Rosario recommended Roxas as special envoy of the President after the DFA received a note verbale from the Chinese embassy in Manila requesting Roxas’ presence, said Lacierda.

“It is not an offshoot of the—whatever offshoot it was. There is no offshoot, by the way. This is really Secretary Del Rosario’s recommendation and the President approved the recommendation of Secretary Del Rosario,” said Lacierda.

Damage control

Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House committee on national defence and security, yesterday said there was a need for “damage control” in the wake of public disclosures on Trillanes’ role as a backdoor negotiator for the government.

“It may definitely affect (the ongoing talks) but that is already water under the bridge,” he told the Inquirer on the phone. “All you can do now is to effect damage control.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodouro Casiño said the nationally televised confrontation between Enrile and Trillanes “might undermine the talks if still ongoing.”

“It might also jeopardise future back-channelling efforts because other governments might not be honest and candid since there is no assurance that talks would be under wraps,” he said in a text message.

With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and AFP

 

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