The Philippines urges China to 'engage in friendly initiatives' to settle territorial disputes

A Filipino naval officer (second from left) being greeted by Vietnamese naval officers upon his arrival on the Vietnam-held Song Tu Tay or South-west Cay island of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on June 8, 2014. Vietnamese and Ph
A Filipino naval officer (second from left) being greeted by Vietnamese naval officers upon his arrival on the Vietnam-held Song Tu Tay or South-west Cay island of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on June 8, 2014. Vietnamese and Philippine troops got together on a disputed island in the South China Sea on Sunday to play soccer and volleyball - as well as drink beer - in a display of unity that will not go unnoticed in Beijing. Philippine naval officials billed the event on the Vietnamese-held island as a chance to show the world there can be harmony in the South China Sea despite a web of overlapping claims to the potentially energy-rich waters. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines struck a conciliatory tone on Tuesday, as it urged China to "engage in friendly initiatives" to settle disputes it has with its neighbours over territories in the South China Sea.

"The dispute that we do have in the sea that borders our respective lands should not be the sum total of our relationships," Philippine President Benigno Aquino said in a speech before members of the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industries marking the 13th "Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day".

He added: "Our relationships are based on so many more things, not just on this dispute, and that peace and stability are necessary components for our own - for everybody's - progress."

Echoing a statement delivered during the same event by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, Mr Aquino said the territorial rows now flaring between Manila and Beijing are "temporary difficulties" that could be resolved through negotiations.

Earlier in the day Mr Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said China, instead of calling recent "friendship games" that Vietnamese and Philippine forces held at a contested island a "clumsy farce", "should focus on engaging the Philippines in friendly initiatives".

And in yet another conciliatory note, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said in a news briefing: "We are still hoping that they will understand our actions and that our peaceful pursuits are deemed reasonable."

He said the Philippine-Vietnam "sports fest" was "simply a demonstration that even if these countries may have competing claims, they are able to demonstrate that the pursuit of peaceful settlement of these disputes will not stand in the way of their friendship and the people-to-people friendship that continues to flourish in spite of the differences".

Vietnam hosted Philippine troops on Sunday on Southwest Cay, an island in the South China Sea that it controls, for rounds of football, volleyball and beer to "foster camaraderie".

Reacting to it, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said: ""Don't you think this small move together by Vietnam and the Philippines is at most a clumsy farce?"

Tensions between China and both the Philippines and Vietnam have risen in recent months, with a dispute between Hanoi and Beijing triggering violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month.

rdancel@sph.com.sg

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