PH to raise issue on rocket launchers in China bilateral talks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 18) — Philippine officials will bring up the issue of China's supposed installation of rocket launchers on a disputed reef during the opening salvo of bilateral talks on the South China Sea.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Thursday the topic would be taken up in the so-called "bilateral consultative mechanism," a forum intended for the two countries to discuss overlapping claims in disputed waters.

"I specifically heard the President saying that he will bring this up and these are items that will be touched on," Abella said in a press briefing.

When asked if Beijing's aid proposals would affect Manila's claims over the territory or vice versa, Abella responded that he doubted it.

"I think those are two separate situations," he said. "These are two separate things, aside from the economic relationships that we have."

The direct talks between China and the Philippines on the maritime row begins in Guiyang on Friday, May 19.

The Philippine delegation will be led by Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana.

Among the other expected points of discussion at the talks include the code of conduct between China and the Southeast Asian nations. Southeast Asian leaders are aiming to finalize the framework of the code of conduct by June at the latest.

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However, officials earlier confirmed that the arbitral ruling which favored the Philippines against China's sweeping claim in the South China Sea would again not be raised in the talks. The eastern giant has refused to recognize the international ruling.

"[China] mentioned that... certain issues would not be discussed in the preliminary stage," Abella said on Wednesday. "But also that at the right time, things would be discussed."

CNN Philippines correspondent AC Nicholls contributed to this report.