Aquino scraps China visit at Beijing's request

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has called off a visit to China next week at Beijing's request, Manila said Thursday, as the two nations wrangle over maritime disputes.

Aquino had announced on Wednesday that he would make a 12-hour trip to Nanning on September 3 to attend a trade fair and business conference called the China-ASEAN Expo.

"The president has decided not to proceed... taking into consideration China's request for the president to visit China at a more conducive time," foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement.

Asked why China made such a request, Hernandez told AFP: "Maybe you can ask China."

Hernandez reiterated the Philippine position that "bilateral relations can advance despite differences", an apparent reference to the festering dispute over the South China Sea.

While it did not directly comment on Aquino's aborted trip, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a faxed statement to AFP in Beijing that there were "difficulties" in ties and urged Manila to take steps to remove "the disturbance".

It did not say what "the disturbance" was.

"China has always cherished the traditional friendship between the people of China and the Philippines and has attached great importance to developing bilateral relations," the statement said.

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, up to the coasts of its neighbours, such as the Philippines. The Philippines has said that China's claim infringes on its own maritime territory.

Tensions between China and other claimants to the sea, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, have escalated in recent years amid a series of Chinese political and military actions to assert its claims to the waters.

The Philippines earlier this year said it had applied for its dispute with China to be arbitrated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 treaty signed by both countries.

China has rejected the Philippines' call for UN arbitration, insisting on bilateral negotiations with its smaller neighbour.

The annual Nanning exposition, which began in 2004, is intended to strengthen economic ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which the Philippines is a member.

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