MANILA-- The South China Sea dispute is unlikely to be discussed in the upcoming state visit of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to China.
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said Duterte has not asked about the dispute in their previous meetings and his upcoming visit is about "friendship and cooperation."
"The meeting is not about south China sea. it's about our friendship and cooperation," Jianhua said in a forum at Kamuning, Quezon City on Friday.
He said the South China Sea does not separate the two countries but rather serves as a "bridge".
"The South China Sea is not something separating China and the Philippines. It has served as a bridge that links up the two nations.
We hope by working together we can turn the South China Sea into a sea of peace and friendship and in particular a sea of cooperation," Jianhua said.
He said improvements in the Chinese-Philippine relations particularly in relation to maritime disputes, should be attributed to Duterte.
"I have had the honor to have several opportunities to discuss bilateral relationships with your president. And every time we meet he mentions fishermen concerns. Give the credit to your president," he said.
Jianhua also said about a dozen agreements between the two countries may be signed during Duterte's state visit.
OFWS IN CHINA
Asked on the condition of overseas Filipino workers in China, particularly domestic workers, Jianhua said Beijing has been "somewhat kind" considering the huge number of undocumented OFWs in mainland China.
"We have been somewhat kind to the application of the strict and relevant procedures to handle this method. They (OFWs) are being treated quite well. They are welcomed by Chinese families," he said.
He added that visa-free entry is something that China welcomes but still involves technical issues to be discussed by both countries.
"Of course, we would like the Filipino side to facilitate the visa application and simplify it so that we have more Chinese travelers to come here to the Philippines," Jianhua said.
Duterte is scheduled to visit China on October 18 to 21.
The visit will be the first meeting between the heads of states of the two countries in five years, after ties between the two countries loosened due to the South China Sea dispute.