[PHOTO AT LEFT - Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomes President Arroyo before a banquet at the Xi Jiao guesthouse in Shanghai.]

SHANGHAI, OCTOBER 3, 2007 (STAR) (VIA PLDT) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo personally conveyed to Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday her decision to scrap the national broadband network (NBN) contract with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. during a brief meeting between the two world leaders here.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye told reporters that it was Mrs. Arroyo who initiated discussions on the NBN issue during their 30-minute bilateral discussion at the Xi Jiao Guesthouse in Shanghai.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries over Mrs. Arroyo’s attendance at the Shanghai Special Olympics, Bunye said the President started relaying the Philippines’ recognition of China as an important partner.

Mrs. Arroyo reiterated to Hu the Philippines’ commitment to the one-China policy, which China considers as an important issue.

Bunye said that this was “very much appreciated by President Hu.”

In effect, the much talked-about cancellation of the ZTE scandal did little to hurt the relationship between the two countries. EAL

“The President described our relationship as one that is characterized by respect, consultation and mutual benefit,” Bunye quoted the President as saying just before she raised the NBN issue with President Hu.

“At this point the President explained the difficult decision not to continue with the NBN contract,” Bunye said.

According to Bunye, Mrs. Arroyo “counted on the good relations between our two countries for understanding.”

“The President has always expressed the belief that the more bridges we cross the better for the country and for our people. And this is one of the bridges that the President is now crossing,” Bunye said.

Pressed by reporters about what the President meant about “not to continue,” Bunye said, “I don’t want to use any word other than what was used by the President.”

“When you cannot continue a game then tapos ka na (you’re done),” Bunye said.

In response to the statement of Mrs. Arroyo, Bunye said that Hu “offered understanding” by saying that the relationship of the two countries is in very good shape.

The Philippines has been a great ally, Bunye quoted Hu as saying, adding the Chinese leader lauded the efforts of both countries’ foreign ministers to work out a joint program for cooperation.

Hu also noted the efforts of the two counties’ trade ministers for developing a five-year economic development program to provide clear guidelines for cooperation.

“I believe that President Arroyo was able to present the large picture to the satisfaction of President Hu. The Chinese President offered understanding for the decision taken by President Arroyo,” Bunye said.

Bunye pointed out that Trade Secretary Peter Favila did a lot of back-channeling with the Chinese prior to the announcement of the NBN deal suspension last Sept. 22.

The President, in a statement two days after Favila’s announcement, said that she made the difficult decision to suspend the deal because of the political noise.

“What stood out there was the term ‘difficult’. It was a difficult decision not to continue with the NBN project,” Bunye said.

“This is just one item out of a wider spectrum of our relationship,” he added.

Bunye said that the topic of the NBN-ZTE deal took up about a third of the time of the bilateral talks, which lasted around 30 minutes including the time for translation.

Favila and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, who accompanied the President to China, were evasive for the most part yesterday when asked to provide details about the bilateral talks.

Mrs. Arroyo described the Philippines-China relations under the leadership of Hu as having grown to become “more confident, mature and comprehensive, punctuated with substantial and important projects aimed at deepening exchanges in a number of areas, including trade and investment.”

Palace believes Abalos is innocent

Meanwhile, Malacañang officials said yesterday the controversy over the NBN project would simmer down following Abalos’ resignation even as they expressed belief that the former poll chief was innocent of the charges against him.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol, in separate interviews, also dismissed speculations that Abalos resigned to shield President Arroyo from the controversy and reiterated calls for the senators to end their inquiry.

Ermita said it was not surprising that the opposition would try to use an existing controversy to hit the Arroyo administration, such as the Senate investigation into the deal.

“What’s important is whether there is truth in the scenario they’re (opposition) trying to create, but the administration of President Arroyo is very confident that things would somehow simmer down because she knows that the government has nothing to hide,” he said.

Apostol said the hearings have already exhausted the issue as well as the officials and other witnesses, as he accused the senators of trying to prolong the inquiry for media mileage.

“You remove the media, (see) if there will be an investigation,” he said.

He said he believes that Abalos was telling the truth when he denied allegations that he tried to bribe Neri during a golf game at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong City.

When it was pointed out that he was virtually clearing Abalos, he said, “Yes, because that’s what happened. That’s the truth.”

“Abalos was just conversing (with Neri) while playing golf. Now he is being pinned down. Is it wrong for Abalos to play golf with Neri and let him ride in his golf cart?” Apostol said.

He however didn’t think Neri was any less credible, even if the former economic planning chief had accused Abalos of attempting to bribe him during the game.

“I believe in them both,” he said, without elaborating. – Paolo Romero, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved