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No plans for Philippine’s Duterte to meet China’s Li at Asean summit

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has no plans to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a regional summit in Laos, his spokesman said.

It would have been the highest level contact between the two nations since an international tribunal ruled in July that China had no historical claims to the contested South China Sea.

Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said a meeting was “not on the schedule”.

The Philippine leader is attending the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations which began in Vientiane today.

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But Abella reiterated the president’s wish to ease bilateral tensions and resolve the dispute.

“The president’s position has always been clear that he hoped for a soft landing,” Abella said. “There will be time to speak on certain matters, but as it is, it’s basically maintaining the diplomatic relationship.”

Previously, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte planned to visit China within the year, but Abella said the topic had not been broached.

Manila did not intend to raise the issue of the South China Sea during the multilateral talks in Vientiane, but Duterte was expected to ask about alleged Chinese reclamation activities in the disputed Scarborough Shoal if one-on-one discussions took place, according to Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Duterte said last week Chinese barges were spotted in the area, sparking speculation over whether China was building new man-made islands.

Duterte met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc today.

Duterte discussed the importance of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea during the meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart, Abella said.