07:18 GMT01 March 2021
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    Beijing has indicated that it is not ready to change its stance on the South China Sea as a prerequisite to improve its relations with the Philippines and increase its influence in Southeast Asia, political analyst Elena Fomicheva told Sputnik China, commenting on Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng cancelling his visit to Manila.

    "China has obviously made it clear that although it is a positive thing that the Philippines wants to develop bilateral relations and trade, Beijing will not consider its interests in the South China Sea to be a bargaining chip," Fomicheva, an expert at the Institute for Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.

    Earlier this week, China abruptly postponed a visit of its Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng to the Philippines. The official was supposed to sign approximately 40 bilateral deals worth billions of dollars as relations between two former rivals have become increasingly warm.

    This move came after Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines Perfecto Yasay said that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations were concerned with Beijing's activities in the South China Sea, a sensitive issue for China.

    Nevertheless, "China is interested in enhancing its influence in ASEAN. Beijing has already managed to do this with Laos and Cambodia. It has been more challenging in Thailand's case due to Bangkok's years-long ties to the United States," she said.

    The Philippines is also a difficult case for China since the country did not have a working relationship with Manila.

    "However, China is interested in winning the Philippines over," the expert noted.

    Shen Shishun, a senior researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, reaffirmed that the Philippines is not inclined to confront Beijing on the South China Sea.

    "If the Philippines has indeed altered its stance on the South China Sea and the Philippine foreign minister made it clear in his remarks, then this could have had an impact on the visit. However, China cannot change plans which had already been approved because of an isolated remark. I cannot claim that there is a direct link between the commerce minister postponing his visit and comments made by the Philippine foreign minister. We should wait for the Beijing's official stance on the issue."

    China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said that the visit was postponed "due to scheduling reasons," adding that Beijing and Manila were "actively carrying out relevant preparation work" for the trip which is expected to take place in early March.

    Geng Shuang also described Yasay's remarks as "baffling and regrettable," expressing hope that the Philippine foreign minister would "speak and act cautiously".

    Meanwhile, on Friday, the Chinese government announced that Zhong Shan was appointed the new commerce minister, replacing Gao Hucheng. The move is part of a reshuffle which has taken place ahead of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, a major event held twice a decade.

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    foreign policy, bilateral relations, cooperation, Zhong Shan, Elena Fomicheva, Shen Shishun, Gao Hucheng, South China Sea, China, Philippines
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