PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino was correct when he instructed the Philippine ambassador to Norway not to attend the awarding ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, making it appear he did so at the request of China which boycotted the rites because one of the honorees was a dissident Chinese writer.

If President Aquino acceded to China’s request, what’s wrong with that?

He had a reason to do so:

He wants to save five Filipinos on death row in Beijing for drug offenses.

Whether China will spare the convicted Filipinos is up to China’s justice system.

But at least Aquino’s decision will help improve Philippine-China relations which have been somewhat dampened by the hostage crisis in Manila where eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong were killed when a SWAT team traded gunshots with the lone hostage-taker.

Although Beijing did not lodge a diplomatic protest over the incident, Hong Kong administrators bristled with anger, issued a travel advisory which it later lifted, but this week issued another black travel alert against the Philippines for fear of terrorist attack.

Aquino can’t be blamed for harmonizing ties with a powerful neighbor like China, even at the expense of displeasing the United States, a traditional ally and economic patron.

On Monday, Aquino said he met with U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. but gave no reason on what they talked about.

The ambassador, who asked for the meeting, also was mum.

“We wished each other Merry Christmas.”

Strangely, Aquino was quoted as saying that there was no reason for the Philippines “to apologize” for not sending a representative to the award ceremony in Oslo.

Why would he say that if the subject was not discussed in the meeting?

Did WikiLeaks listen in on the conversation?

We wonder.

After all, much of the diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks allegedly came from the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

In any case, it’s not unusual for the United States not to butt in into the Oslo furor.

The U.S. would want the Philippines on its side as it consolidates its influence in Asia, where China holds sway.

It’s up to President Aquino to play the Philippine card right in the tug-o-war between the two world superpowers.

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