By Jose Katigbak, Star Washington Bureau @ http://www.philstar.com/headlines/722244/spratlys-conflict-make-aquinos-china-visit-tense MANILA, Philippines – The Heritage Foundation in Washington said the elephant in the room in talks in Beijing between visiting President Aquino and Chinese leaders will be the ongoing tensions in the South China Sea. In the past year, China has stiffened its resolve regarding its sovereignty over its “blue soil” and, since February, has challenged the Philippines in waters mere miles from Palawan at least nine times, said Robert Warshaw of the Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. Although President Aquino has stressed he will raise the South China Sea issue with Chinese leaders, Warshaw said as with most presidential meetings, every effort will be made by interlocutors to prevent an embarrassing confrontation. So little progress can be expected. Despite growing security concerns in the Philippines, President Aquino and the country’s business leaders simply cannot ignore the enormous opportunity that China’s rapid economic expansion provides, Warshaw said. This is an important lesson for US policymakers. China continues to represent both challenge and opportunity for Southeast Asia. Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 US leaders must realize that treaty allies like Thailand and the Philippines can simultaneously pursue policies of building closer security relations with Washington while making the most of the Chinese market. Still, the US and the Philippines understand that their alliance matters to the security of the Philippines and to the region. Not since the Cold War has the Philippine-US mutual defense treaty signed 60 years ago been so relevant, Warshaw said. The US must continue to uphold the alliance by helping the Philippines develop a credible maritime defense capability. Finally, President Obama should invite President Aquino for a state visit to Washington, DC America’s oldest treaty ally in Asia deserves this kind of respect and commitment.