Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday he would go ahead with a trip to China this year despite heightened tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Aquino said he would use his visit to try to resolve disputes over the strategic waters.
“It will happen this year, barring any unforeseen circumstances,” he told reporters.
“For me, it is important to talk to everyone, especially the other side. Maybe we can reach an agreement. After all, we cannot just ignore this matter when people’s lives may be at stake,” Aquino said.
The Philippine foreign minister said last week he would travel to China to help prepare for the president’s visit, for which a date has not yet been set.
The Philippines and China, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, each claim all or part of the South China Sea – particularly the Spratlys, a chain of islets in the area that are believed to sit on vast mineral resources.
Tensions have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam voicing alarm at what they say are increasingly forceful Chinese actions there.
In the latest incident, an unidentified foreign plane harassed a group of Philippine fishermen in the South China Sea last month, the Philippine navy said Tuesday, adding that they believed the flyover to be a warning.
The fishermen reported that the jet flew low over their boat early last month off the Investigator Northeast Shoal, said navy chief vice Admiral Alexander Pama.
“An unidentified jet buzzed our fishing boat some 20 to 30 feet (6-9 metres) from the top of the mast of the fishing boat,” Pama told reporters.
The shoal, claimed by the Philippines, lies between the major western Philippine island of Palawan and the disputed Spratly islands.
Asked about the plane, Aquino said he had yet to receive a report on the incident.
The Philippines has recently accused Chinese forces of opening fire on Filipino fishermen, shadowing an oil exploration vessel employed by a Philippine firm, and putting up structures in areas claimed by the Philippines.
In the latest twist in the dispute, the Philippine foreign ministry said Tuesday it had banned a senior Chinese diplomat from its premises after accusing him of verbally abusing a Filipino counterpart.
A memorandum issued by the department accused the first secretary and director of political affairs at the Chinese embassy, Li Yonsheng, of rude behaviour, and informed the mission it would no longer deal with him.
“The secretary (Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario) has been informed of the incident and has approved (the Asia-Pacific desk’s) recommendation to request other offices to refrain from dealing with Li,” it added.
Li was accused of verbally abusing a Filipino official during a meeting last month in which the two governments discussed the South China Sea claims.
The Chinese embassy had no immediate reaction to the ban, which a Philippine government source said would limit the diplomat’s ability to carry out his work.