Chinese commerce minister abruptly postpones Philippines trip – sources

China's Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng attends a session during the 2016 G20 Trade Ministers Meeting in Shanghai, China July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song

China’s commerce minister decided at the last minute to postpone an official trip to the Philippines on Thursday to sign about 40 joint projects worth billions of dollars, sources at the Philippines trade and finance ministries said.

It was not immediately clear what was behind the abrupt postponement of what would have been an important development in a new era of engagement between the two historic rivals under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has praised the leadership of Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

However, two Philippines officials, who asked not to be identified, suggested Beijing may have been irked by comments on Tuesday by foreign minister Perfecto Yasay about China’s robust activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng was due to arrive in Manila on Thursday with a large delegation but China informed the Philippines on Wednesday afternoon they would not be coming, the two sources said.

“It was a last-minute decision,” said one of the officials. “We were only informed about it and we’re not privy to any information about the cancellation.” Philippines Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told Reuters the two sides had yet to set a new date for the meeting but were looking at early March. He gave no reason for the sudden change.

China’s commerce ministry had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

On Tuesday, Yasay said as chairman of a meeting of Association of South East Asian Nations foreign ministers that ASEAN was unsettled and had “grave concern” about China’s move to militarise manmade islands, including installation of weapons systems, in the South China Sea.

ASEAN is usually muted in its criticism of Beijing, wary of offending a crucial source of trade, tourism and investment.   Continued…

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