Philippines rejects Chinese demands for President Aquino's visit

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Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines

Philippine President Benigno Aquino rejected conditions China set for him to attend an expo in the country, adding to strains over territory in the South China Sea that both claim.

"The president stood firm in the defense of the country's national interest," Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Philippines foreign affairs department, said in an e-mail. He didn't provide details of the demand, saying he didn't want to embarrass China.

The dispute over the invitation to the China-ASEAN expo in Nanning, where the Philippines is the country of honor this year, is the latest irritant to repairing ties as the two sides refuse to budge over their territorial dispute. The Philippines wants the United Nations to arbitrate the dueling claims, an idea that China rejects.

Citing two Philippine officials it didn't identify, the Associated Press reported yesterday that China had demanded the Philippines withdraw its arbitration request for Aquino's visit to go ahead.

Hernandez called China's demands "absolutely inimical to our national interest." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei refused to comment on the issue at a briefing yesterday, referring reporters to Foreign Ministry statements last week.

On Aug. 29, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the Philippines to work with China "to restore healthy and stable development of bilateral ties," the official Xinhua News Agency reported at the time.

Treasured friendship

"China has always treasured friendship with the Philippines," the ministry said, according to Xinhua. It said China welcomes all members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the expo, including the Philippines.

The same day, Xinhua quoted the director general of the Foreign Ministry's treaty and law department as saying the Philippine arbitration request "has no legal ground."

Also on Aug. 29, Hernandez said Aquino decided not to attend the summit after China requested he visit at "a more conducive time."

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