* China's Commerce Minister postpones trip to Manila
* Trip postponed over scheduling reasons - China foreign
* Philippine Trade Minister Gao will make a visit next month
(Adds comments from China's foreign ministry spokesman)
By Manuel Mogato
MANILA, Feb 23 China's commerce minister decided
at the last minute to postpone an official trip to the
Philippines on Thursday to sign about 40 joint projects worth
billions of dollars, sources at the Philippines trade and
finance ministries said.
It was not immediately clear what was behind the abrupt
postponement of what would have been an important development in
a new era of engagement between the two historic rivals under
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has praised the leadership of
Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
However, two Philippines officials, who asked not to be
identified, suggested Beijing may have been irked by comments on
Tuesday by foreign minister Perfecto Yasay about China's robust
activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng was due to arrive in
Manila on Thursday with a large delegation but China informed
the Philippines on Wednesday afternoon they would not be coming,
the two sources said.
"It was a last-minute decision," said one of the officials.
"We were only informed about it and we're not privy to any
information about the cancellation."
Philippines Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told Reuters the two
sides had yet to set a new date for the meeting but were looking
at early March. He gave no reason for the sudden change.
The trip was postponed "due to scheduling reasons," China's
foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in
"The two sides are currently actively carrying out relevant
preparation work," Geng told a regular news briefing, adding
that the pacts signed during Duterte's visit were being carried
forward and implemented.
China's commerce ministry had no immediate comment when
contacted by Reuters.
On Tuesday, Yasay said as chairman of a meeting of
Association of South East Asian Nations foreign ministers that
ASEAN was unsettled and had "grave concern" about China's move
to militarise manmade islands, including installation of weapons
systems, in the South China Sea.
ASEAN is usually muted in its criticism of Beijing, wary of
offending a crucial source of trade, tourism and investment.
A Philippine trade official said Manila could only speculate
about why Gao had postponed the visit, and that trade and
economic relations were separate to political disputes over the
South China Sea.
Geng said on Wednesday Yasay's comments were his own and did
not represent the views of ASEAN. China hoped Yasay adhered to
Duterte's policy of seeking to improve ties with China, Geng
A Philippine delegation has submitted to Beijing a list of
40 small- and large-scale infrastructure projects for possible
loans and grants. Chinese firms are also keen to invest in the
agriculture, fisheries and energy sectors in the Philippines.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said in an earlier
statement a six-year development programme for China-Philippines
cooperation was due to be signed during Gao's visit.
The deal stems from an agreement between Xi and Duterte in
Beijing in October.
The finance ministry said 15 of the infrastructure projects
submitted to China were loan financing, while 25 other projects
were for feasibility study support. Three of the large-scale
projects are worth $3.4 billion combined.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Additional reporting by Karen Lema
in MANILA and Sue-Lin Wong, Ben Blanchard, Michael Martina in
BEIJING; Editing by Martin Petty and Paul Tait)