Philippine V-P adopts softer tone on China

VICE-PRESIDENT Jejomar Binay has said he will push for a "joint venture" with China to tap the South China Sea for natural resources if he is elected president, striking a more conciliatory tone than sitting president Benigno Aquino.

"China has the money, and we need capital," Mr Binay, 72, said in a radio interview. The Philippines will go to the polls next year to elect a new president.

He said he believes the Philippines and China can engage in bilateral talks to resolve a simmering row over vast territories in the South China Sea. While China prefers bilateral negotiation, Manila thinks this would be stacked heavily in China's favour and prefers multilateral talks or arbitration.

He said he will propose a "joint venture" that will allow the Philippines to harvest its share of the oil and marine resources in the South China Sea. China has overlapping claims in the waters with several states including the Philippines and Vietnam.

Mr Binay's stance is in stark contrast to Mr Aquino's who has criticised the Chinese for their increasing assertiveness.

Mr Binay leads polls on who voters prefer as the Philippines' next leader. However, his numbers have plunged because Mr Aquino's allies in the Senate have accused him and his children, who are also politicians, of massive corruption.

A long-running Senate investigation has accused Mr Binay, as well as several other politicians, of receiving kickbacks worth millions from public works projects when he was mayor of financial hub Makati and from a land deal involving funds of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.

He was alleged to have bribed two Court of Appeals magistrates to bar a government order to dislodge his son as mayor of Makati.

Still, 28 per cent of Filipinos said they will vote for Mr Binay.

He is ahead of the No. 2 contender, Senator Grace Poe, daughter of a popular actor.

Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao was recently reported to have expressed his intention to run for president, but at 36 is too young under the Philippine Constitution to do so. A candidate has to be at least 40 years old.

None of these contenders have expressed their opinions on how they intend to deal with China.

RAUL DANCEL