MANILA: China’s new ambassador to the Philippines on Tuesday met President Benigno Aquino to try to mend relations strained by a festering territorial dispute.
Zhao Jianhua, who arrived in the Philippines over a month ago, briefly met Aquino after presenting his credentials, said presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.
“It went well,” she told reporters.
Valte said the delay in Aquino receiving the ambassador was due to his busy schedule and was not caused by the two countries’ competing claims to parts of the South China Sea.
She also said the government was hopeful its ties with China could move forward despite the dispute.
Chinese vessels in recent weeks have used water cannon on Filipino fishermen and blocked a ship bringing supplies to Philippine troops manning a disputed South China Sea outpost.
“We’ve always agreed that the relationship with the People’s Republic of China has always been multifaceted, and that the dispute in the West Philippine Sea is just a part or a segment of that relationship, and we see no reason why other segments of that relationship cannot move forward,” Valte said.
The West Philippine Sea is the term the government uses for the South China Sea.
The Chinese embassy said in a statement that “both sides exchanged views on China-Philippines relations and the South China Sea issue” during Zhao’s meeting with Aquino.
While reiterating the Chinese position claiming most of the South China Sea, “he emphasised that China attaches importance to its relations with the Philippines,” the embassy added.
It also called on both sides to “properly handle relevant disputes… and bring the bilateral ties back to the normal track of development.”
The statement cited the Philippines’ bid for UN arbitration of their South China Sea dispute, stressing such things are “not what the Chinese side wishes to see”.
China had previously warned that the Philippines had “seriously damaged” ties by asking the United Nations to rule in their favour in the dispute.
China claims a vast area of the South China Sea, including areas that overlap with claims by other nations.