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Philippine leader to visit China amid row
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Aug 18, 2011

Philippine President Benigno Aquino will visit China this month in an effort to deepen trade ties despite an increasingly bitter row over rival claims to the South China Sea, officials said Thursday.

Aquino will lead a delegation of top economic officials and hundreds of businessmen to China for the trip, from August 30 to September 3, during which he will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, they said.

The state visit is aimed at boosting trade, tourism, educational and cultural relations, with a particular focus on attracting Chinese investment to the Philippines, foreign affairs department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

"(The visit) is expected to raise the level of Philippines-China bilateral relations to its highest level," Hernandez said.

Bilateral trade is already surging, hitting $10.35 billion last year, a 54-percent rise from 2009, according to the Philippine government.

Hernandez and other senior government officials refused to comment directly on the tensions between the two nations that have escalated this year over conflicting claims to areas of the potentially resource-rich South China Sea.

The Philippines has accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in enforcing its claims to the waters, and Aquino in June publicly called for help from longtime ally the United States in helping to contain China.

The Philippines has accused Chinese naval forces of shooting at Filipino fishermen, deploying patrol boats to intimidate an oil exploration vessel and placing markers on some of the disputed islets.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to all or parts of the South China Sea, including the Spratly islands, which are believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits.

When asked about the territorial conflict on Thursday, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda stressed that the two countries had close ties in many areas despite the dispute.

"We have several levels of friendship with China: economic, trade, cultural... this (visit) will be to foster those relations," he told reporters.

Aquino and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario have said in recent months they hoped to compartmentalise the dispute, so the two countries could continue to expand cooperation in other areas even amid the row.

Nevertheless, Aquino has maintained that the Philippines will not give in against its much more powerful Asian neighbour, and has even said it is seeking to upgrade its military to defend its territorial claims if necessary.

"As far as our sovereignty is concerned, no one can claim our islands. We will not just back down from a larger country," Aquino said last week.

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Hanoi warns anti-China protesters to stop
Hanoi (AFP) Aug 18, 2011 - Authorities in Vietnam on Thursday threatened to crack down on anti-China protests in Hanoi after a series of unprecedented demonstrations in the capital.

"For those who deliberately disobey, trying to illegally gather causing public disorder... authorities can apply necessary measures," said the notice published in Hanoi Moi, a mouthpiece for the ruling Communist Party.

The demonstrations over a territorial dispute in the tense South China Sea have occurred almost every Sunday since early June and attracted up to 300 peaceful marchers -- including prominent intellectuals.

Two protests in July were forcibly dispersed by police after talks between Hanoi and Beijing, but subsequent rallies have been allowed to go ahead.

Overtly political demonstrations are rare in authoritarian Vietnam but analysts said the gatherings initially served Hanoi's purpose in expressing displeasure with Beijing.

The unsigned notice from the Hanoi authorities said more recent gatherings had been abused by "anti-state forces".

It added: "Their conspiracy and intention has been to disrupt the great national unity, instigating national hatred, separating relations between Vietnam and China," and disrupting political stability.

Vietnam and China have a longstanding dispute over sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups, which straddle vital commercial shipping lanes in the South China Sea.

Protests began after tensions flared in May when Vietnam said Chinese marine surveillance vessels cut the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside the country's exclusive economic zone.

Vietnamese bitterly recall 1,000 years of Chinese occupation and, more recently, a 1979 border war. More than 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed in 1988 when the two sides battled off the Spratlys.

Some activists speculated the government may fear political protests inspired by this year's uprisings against authoritarianism in North Africa and the Middle East.

The government also has to balance its relationship with China by not overly-offending its giant communist neighbour while avoiding the appearance of weakness before its own people, analysts say.

Nguyen Xuan Dien, whose blog has become a rallying point for the protesters, told AFP the call to end demonstrations has no legal validity.

"It prevents people's rights to demonstration written in the constitution," he said, declining to say what the protesters will do next.

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China lawyer sues oil giants over spill: report
Beijing (AFP) Aug 17, 2011
A Chinese lawyer is suing a state-owned energy giant and its US partner over a huge oil spill off China's northeast coast, amid public anger over the resulting pollution, state media said Wednesday. More than 2,100 barrels of oil and oil-based mud - a substance used as a lubricant in undersea drilling - have leaked from two platforms in Bohai Bay jointly owned by ConocoPhillips and China's ... read more

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