China says not aware of plan to discuss South China Sea at Apec meeting in Manila

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) arriving with his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario at the foreign affairs office in Manila on Nov 10.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) arriving with his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario at the foreign affairs office in Manila on Nov 10.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China is not aware of any plan to discuss the disputed South China Sea at an Asia-Pacific leaders' summit next week in Manila, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday (Nov 10), amid tensions between China and the Philippines over the waters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) group. The Apec meeting will take place in Manila from Nov 17 to 19. Apec's members include the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Canada, and together account for 57 per cent of global production and 46.5 per cent of world trade.

"Everyone knows that Apec is primarily about discussing trade and financial cooperation in the Asia-Pacific," Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Li Baodong told reporters. "As far as I know, at this year's summit, there are no plans to discuss the South China Sea."

China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$7.1 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year.

A summit of Asean last week, attended by both the United States and China, failed to produce a final statement because the delegations could not agree on whether to mention the South China Sea dispute.

China has been particularly angered by a case lodged by the Philippines with an arbitration court in the Netherlands over the South China Sea. China says it will neither recognise nor participate in the case.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit the Philippines on Tuesday to discuss preparations for Mr Xi's visit and ways to improve Beijing's relations with Manila.

Separately, China's Defence Ministry said that naval chief Wu Shengli had left for a visit to Malaysia and Indonesia. It gave no other details.

Malaysia, another claimant in the South China Sea, has taken an increasingly vocal position on the dispute of late.