MANILA- China has expressed concern over President Rodrigo Duterte's order for the military to occupy islands in the South China Sea, urging Manila to "properly manage" the maritime dispute.
In a press briefing Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that Beijing hopes Manila would work to maintain bilateral ties between the two countries.
"Having noted the report, the Chinese side is concerned about it. We hope the Philippine side will continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China and work with us to maintain the sound and steady growth of China-Philippines relations," Hua said in a presser.
Her remarks were posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.
Duterte on Thursday said he has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to occupy all islands the country claims in the South China Sea.
"We have to maintain our jurisdiction over South China Sea," Duterte told reporters in Palawan.
The President also instructed the military to build structures and raise the Philippine flag on islands within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
He said he intends to mark Independence Day at the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in June.
AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año on Friday said the military would have no problem carrying out the President's orders, citing the United Nations arbitration ruling that was favorable to the Philippines.
Hua said Beijing remains firm to its commitment of defending its interests in the disputed waters.
"The Chinese side is committed to defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and safeguarding peace and stability there," she said.
Hua also noted that the overall situation in the South China Sea is "getting better" and that this development "has not come easily and deserves to be cherished and preserved by all parties."
Beijing has rejected Manila's arbitral victory, reiterating indisputable sovereignty over almost all of the waters and stepping up militarization and reclamation activities in the South China Sea.