President Benigno Aquino III (left) discusses the West Philippine Sea issue with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan during his state visit to China Wednesday.  (Photo by Jay Morales)

BEIJING — President Benigno Aquino III said Wednesday night that China has agreed to draft the implementing guidelines for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

Mr. Aquino, speaking with Manila-based journalists, said China’s new position, which was given by Chinese President Hu Jintao during their bilateral meeting Wednesday, is a “very significant” change from China’s original position.

“They actually even responded that there should be an implementing agreement already for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea. So that is very significant, because before it was a general statement of principles. Now, it’s like there’s a desire to really put in the implementing rules and regulations,” he said.

He said incidents in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) among China, Vietnam and the Philippines made people pause about relations with China.

“When I came in, there was a Declaration (of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) and but there was no implementing. Now, you have a statement from the superpower of the bloc saying, ‘Let’s put it down in black and white exactly how to implement this.’ Those are not the words that they used but the sentiment that was expressed is that perhaps it is time to...basically deal with operationalizing that declaration into an actual Code of Conduct that guides everybody as to how to behave within these disputed territories,” he said.

Asked if the tension between China and the Philippines has eased, he said: “There was no increase in tension, that is very, very clear.”

He said positions which were previously “so disparate” are now “moving along” and getting closer.

Mr. Aquino, reacting to adverse media reports in China about structures being built by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands, said the plan to rehabilitate the deteriorating airstrip in Pag-asa Island so that the community and soldiers there could be supplied with their basic needs has not yet materialized.

A joint statement issued Thursday said Mr. Aquino and Mr. Hu “exchanged views on the maritime disputes and agreed not to let the maritime disputes affect the broader picture of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.”

“The two leaders reiterated their commitment to addressing the disputes through peaceful dialogue, to maintain continued regional peace, security, stability and an environment conducive to economic progress. Both leaders reaffirmed their commitments to respect and abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and the Asean member countries in 2002,” it said.

The statement said the Philippines and China agreed that Mr. Aquino’s visit is a “milestone” in the development of Philippines-China bilateral relations.

It also stated that Mr. Aquino and Hu reiterated their countries’ commitment to “jointly pursue a long-term and stable relationship of strategic cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”

They also agreed that the Joint Action Plan for Strategic Cooperation signed by the two sides on Oct. 29, 2009 will continue to guide cooperation in all fields.

It said both sides agreed to further expand the volume of bilateral trade and accordingly set a target of $60 billion in total two-way trade by 2016 and to improve the trade structure, promote a more vigorous exchange of investments and explore new areas of economic cooperation in the fields of, among others, new and renewable energy, shipping and ports.

China affirmed its support for the Public Private Partnership (PPP) program of the Philippine Government and committed to encourage its companies to participate in the competitive bidding processes of the program.

They agreed that 2012-2013 will be the “Philippines-China Years of Friendly Exchanges.”

The two leaders expressed satisfaction that two-way tourist arrivals have breached the one-million mark and agreed to shoot for two million arrivals by 2016.

Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II, in an interview in Beijing, said the NorthRail project would be “reconfigured” and its scope widened.

He said the contractor would be replaced because it turned out that it was not an expert on building railways but on building dams.

Mr. Aquino also toured the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City, both of which he described as “amazing and inspiring.”

Mr. Aquino left Beijing Thursday night for Shanghai.

He will also go to Fujian before returning to Manila on Saturday.

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