China's President Xi Jinping to attend Apec summit in Manila amid South China Sea tensions

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking at the National University of Singapore on Nov 7, 2015.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking at the National University of Singapore on Nov 7, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA - Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to the Philippines next week to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Economic Leaders' Meeting on Nov 18 and 19, amid a simmering sea row that has plunged relations between Manila and Beijing to new lows.

In a post on its website, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Mr Xi would be in the Philippine capital Manila from Nov 17 to 19, following a stop in Antalya, Turkey from Nov 14 to 16. Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit the Philippines on Tuesday to prepare for Mr Xi's trip.

That ended weeks of speculations suggesting that Mr Xi, after making stops in Vietnam and Singapore last week, would skip the Apec summit, supposedly to express his displeasure over recent remarks made by Philippine President Benigno Aquino that likened present-day China to Nazi Germany.

In a recent forum with foreign journalists, Mr Aquino promised to be "the perfect host" to Mr Xi.

Mr Xi's trip to the Philippines will come weeks after an international tribunal in The Netherlands ruled that it has the power to hear Manila's case against China's claims over nearly all of the South China Sea.

In a 4,000-page plea, the Philippines is accusing China of violating international laws by claiming areas that are 1,611km away from its borders.

Citing historical records and ancient maps, China claims nearly all of the 3.5 million sq km South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$7.1 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year.

A "nine-dash line" it drew across the South China Sea to mark the boundaries of these claims overlaps with territories claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Speaking at the National University of Singapore last Saturday (Nov 7), Mr Xi repeated his country's uncompromising claims to the South China Sea but pledged that it would not "bully" its weaker neighbours.

China's land reclamation efforts in the Spratly archipelago in the southern half of the South China Sea, began in 2013, has raised concerns in the region.

China has so far reclaimed more than 1,170ha of land to transform seven reefs in the Spratlys into islands equipped with runways and mall-size garrisons.

On Oct 27, a US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of these man-made islands.

Mr Xi said in Singapore freedom of passage in the South China Sea "has never been a problem and will never be a problem", but the islands there have always been Chinese.

rdancel@sph.com.sg