Chinese leaders give Manila event a miss

LEADERS in the region including Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will be attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia here next week.

But none of China's leaders will be among the 600 delegates from 30 states attending the event, meant to bring sharper focus on Asean and how its integration into a single market next year can be leveraged for more inclusive growth in East Asia.

Instead, Asia's biggest and the world's No. 2 economy is sending a low-key delegation of businessmen and academics.

WEF senior director for South-east Asia Sushant Palakurthi Rao said Philippine President Benigno Aquino sent invitations to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, but that the two leaders "have not been able to accept the invitations".

Tensions between the Philippines and China have been escalating, as both sides assert their rival claims over parts of the resource-rich South China Sea.

Manila angered Beijing last week when it filed criminal charges against nine Chinese fishermen it arrested off a shoal 100km off the Philippine coast.

On Wednesday, the Philippines disclosed that China has been reclaiming land in the disputed Spratly Islands, apparently to build an airstrip.

When asked at a news conference on next week's WEF event whether China's absence amounted to a snub, Philippine Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said: "I don't think so. Relationships among countries are multidimensional. The important thing is that you focus on the commonalities and make sure that is more than whatever issues you may have."

rdancel@sph.com.sg