BEIJING—An improved friendly relationship with China does not mean that the Philippines is abandoning its claims in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Philippine ambassador to China said here Saturday.
“It is important to have friendly relations with China. It is important to engage with China and that is why the Duterte administration has decided to shift from an adversarial relations with China to a friendly and conciliatory relationship with China,” Ambassador Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said.
“It does not mean we’re giving up our maritime claims. We still have our differences.”
In 2016, a United Nations-backed arbitral ruling rejected China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, strengthening the Philippines’ claim to several disputed islands in the resource-rich territory.
Sta. Romana said the Duterte administration has taken an approach that puts such contentious and non-contentious issues on “separate tracks”.
“What we’re doing is that we’re putting it on separate tracks so that it will not be at the center and will not affect the overall atmosphere, or it will be an obstacle to developing relations. This is the basic strategy that the president has adopted,” he said.
Relations between the two neighboring countries were strained in the past, mainly due to the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
Sta. Romana said the current administration is “normalizing” the relations by developing areas of cooperation between the two countries.
Bilateral relations will be driven by friendly cooperation in projects that would benefit the Philippine economy, trade, culture and arts and will not be driven by dispute, he added.
When President Duterte met with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, during his state visit in October last year, at least 10 memorandums of agreement were signed.
“Our relationship was frozen in the past couple of years due to strained relations so what we are doing is normalizing all this and using these as a platform to further improve relations. These are all projects that are ongoing,” he said.
President Duterte is set to arrive here Saturday night to attend the high-profile Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in a bid to push stronger economic ties with China and the rest of the world.
He is among 29 heads of state and government leaders who will attend the forum.
On May 15, the President is also scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with President Xi.