Tensions between Philippines, China have eased, says Chinese ambassador

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Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing

MANILA, Philippines — Seeking to soften the impact of the report of a deadlock, China’s ambassador to the Philippines on Tuesday said that tensions between the two countries had eased after last week’s high-level talks on their territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, who met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping in Nanning last week, told reporters on Tuesday that the two countries did not budge from their respective positions in their dispute over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.

But Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing, speaking at the celebration of China’s 63rd National Day at the Makati Shangri-la hotel, said the “important meeting” between Roxas and Xi on Sept. 21 eased tensions between the two countries, whose relations ran into “difficulties” because of the dispute.

It was the first time that Ma spoke about the dispute since a two-month maritime standoff between the two countries over Panatag Shoal ended in June.

Ma acknowledged the Philippines as an important regional partner of China and said she hoped positive steps would continue toward the resolution of the sea dispute.

President Benigno Aquino III sent Roxas as his special envoy to the China-Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo in Nanning last week, tasking him to convey to the Chinese government word of what the Philippines was doing to find a peaceful solution to the dispute and its desire to improve relations.

Roxas met with Xi, widely expected to take over from Chinese President Hu Jintao in an upcoming leadership change, after the opening of the trade fair and both officials insisted their countries had sovereignty over Panatag Shoal.

Malacañang press officers pictured the talks as “constructive,” with both Roxas and Xi speaking of their countries’ willingness to “move forward in their bilateral relations.”

The Philippine Daily Inquirer learned, however, that “substantial gaps” in relations between the two countries remained after the meeting, which Roxas, in his briefing for reporters on Tuesday, did not call successful.

Roxas said, however, that his meeting with Xi kept the talks with China going, and he called it a “good foundation” for future discussions.

Ma said as much in her remarks on Tuesday. “I wish joint efforts will be continued with the aim of overcoming current difficulties and bringing the bilateral relations back to the track of normal development,” she said. “I believe this is in the interests of both sides and is conducive to the peace and stability of our region,” she said.

Ma also recognized the Philippines as an important neighbor in Asia and has continued diplomatic ties in the last 37 years.

“The Philippines is an important neighbor to China. Amiable interactions between the Chinese and the Filipino people have forged affinity and kinship, which has withstood the test of history and time,” she said.

She noted how relations between the two countries has brought mutual benefits, “which are showcased by double-digit annual growth of trade, steadily increasing two-way investments as well as cultural and people to people exchanges.”

Ma also said China would continue to open up to the rest of the world: “There is no doubt that China’s basic state policy of peaceful development and opening to the outside world will remain unchanged.”

Foreign Undersecretary Laura del Rosario, representing Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, said the Philippines would continue to work alongside China in overcoming challenges.

“Being with good friends and neighbors, we are confident that no matter what challenges we face as neighbors or as a region, we would be working hand in hand with China,” Del Rosario said.

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