China says not aware of plan to discuss South China Sea at APEC

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is not aware of any plan to discuss the disputed South China Sea at an Asia Pacific leaders' summit next week, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday, amid tensions between China and the Philippines over the waters. For its part, the Philippines said it would not raise the issue at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to be held in Manila from Nov. 17 to 19. Chinese President Xi Jinping is to attend the meeting of APEC, which includes the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Canada and accounts for 57 percent of global production and 46.5 percent of world trade. "Everyone knows that APEC is primarily about discussing trade and financial cooperation in the Asia Pacific," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong told reporters in answer to a question. "As far as I know, at this year's summit, there are no plans to discuss the South China Sea." In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner also said the APEC gathering was typically about economic matters, but added the South China Sea issue would likely come up on the sidelines of the summit if it was not on the agenda itself. China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. A summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last week, attended by both the United States and China, failed to produce a final statement because the delegations could not agree on whether to mention the South China Sea dispute. China has been particularly angered by a case lodged by the Philippines with an arbitration court in the Netherlands over the South China Sea. China says it will neither recognize nor participate in the case. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Manila on Tuesday for the first high-level talks between the two neighbors since 2011. "They expressed hope the contentious issues will not be raised (at APEC) and we said we will endeavor on our side not to raise contentious maritime issues," Charles Jose, Manila's Foreign Ministry spokesman, told a news conference. He said Manila would not raise the South China Sea issue because of the arbitration case in The Hague and because APEC was "not the proper forum". Wang told his Filipino counterpart that China wanted to return relations to a more healthy and stable track as the current tense state of ties was not in either country's interests, China's Foreign Ministry said in statement. "China is willing to appropriately handle issues that affect bilateral relations, including maritime ones, via dialogue and consultation," the ministry paraphrased Wang as saying. China's door to talks was always open and it hoped both sides could meet each other half way to find a solution as soon as possible, Wang added. Separately, China's Defense Ministry said that naval chief Wu Shengli had left for a visit to Malaysia and Indonesia. It gave no other details. Malaysia has taken an increasingly vocal position on the South China Sea dispute of late. (Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Cooney)