MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government said Thursday that China has withdrawn an invitation to President Benigno Aquino III to visit a trade fair in an apparent snub as the two countries are locked in a territorial dispute.
A spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, Raul Hernandez, said in a statement that Aquino has decided not to go ahead with the daylong visit to the China-ASEAN Expo scheduled for Tuesday in Nanning.
“The president has decided not to proceed … taking into consideration China’s request for the president to visit China at a more conducive time,” Hernandez said.
He added that the Philippines “will continue to abide by our principled position that bilateral relations can advance despite differences.”
China’s Foreign Ministry in Beijing did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Associated Press.
Hernandez said that China had invited the Philippines to send a high-level delegation to visit Nanning a few months ago.
Aquino on Wednesday told reporters he would go, adding: “You may be surprised, I will travel next week. It’s quite a long trip to China. I will leave at 5 in the morning and will be back at 5 in the afternoon.”
“I don’t want to overstay our welcome there,” he said.
According to Hernandez, China informed the Philippines late Wednesday that Aquino should not proceed with the trip.
The Philippines is this year’s “country of honor” at the trade fair, which takes place in China every year to highlight trade exchanges between Beijing and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The Philippines and China have been embroiled in an increasingly antagonistic territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Last year, China seized a shoal near the northwestern coast of the Philippines, and this year demanded that the Philippine navy withdraw from Second Thomas Shoal father south.
The Philippines has further angered China by seeking U.N. arbitration to solve the disputes.
Dwarfed by China’s mammoth military, the Philippines also has started negotiations with Washington to allow a larger number of U.S. troops to have access to local military camps, where they could also pre-position ships, assault helicopters and high-tech surveillance aircraft like the P3 Orion in close proximity to the South China Sea.