China confident of better ties under Duterte

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 25 2016 06:00 PM

Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte (Composite photo)

MANILA - China is confident of better relations with the Philippines under the leadership of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte, noting the incoming chief executive's openness to dialogue. 

"I'm confident that the relationship will get better," said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on Wednesday, noting that China is "glad" that Duterte is open to "direct bilateral negotiation."

"We welcome that. It has always been China's policy to settle our disputes and differences through bilateral channels. We are looking forward to work with the incoming president and his team to explore the possibility of returning to bilateral talks," Zhao said. 

Zhao said he is also happy that the Philippines has a new leader, hinting of a dissatisfaction with outgoing President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III. 

The Aquino government shunned bilateral talks with China over the dispute, preferring instead multilateral diplomacy. It also filed an arbitration case before a United Nations Arbitral Tribunal in January 2013, angering China. 

When asked if bilateral relations became most problematic during the Aquino administration, Zhao said: "Do I have to comment on it? We always work for the better."

He, however, had good words about Duterte.

"My impression is that the president-elect is a very strong man, he is a man also of principle, and he has the type of leadership we would like to work with to improve our bilateral relationship," said Zhao. 

READ: PH fishermen favor strong president to end China's blockade

SCARBOROUGH SHOAL 

Zhao refused to divulge details of his recent meeting with Duterte but admitted that they discussed Scarborough Shoal, where several Chinese ships have prevented Filipino fishermen from entering traditional fishing grounds since June 2012. 

READ: PNoy, Del Rosario responsible for PH losing control of Scarborough

The envoy said Duterte raised the issue and expressed concerned for Filipino fishermen whose incomes have been affected by China's de facto blockade in the disputed area near Zambales. 

READ: PH fishermen favor strong president to end China's blockade

"Yes, he raised the issue to me personally and he demonstrated he cares about the poor people, the fishermen. I may put it in this way: The essence of diplomacy is about the interest of the peoples. I think it is the obligation for government to engage in diplomacy in such a way that will contribute to the well-being of the peoples," said Zhao. 

READ: Duterte willing to back down on sea dispute

Zhao earlier flew to Davao City and personally congratulated Duterte for winning the 2016 presidential polls. 

"I can tell you that the conversation was very good. We exchanged views on the last relationship," he said. 

Philippines has been embroiled in a high profile maritime and territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea. It is awaiting the ruling of the Aribtral Tribunal. China has said it will not recognize the decision. 

READ: Philippines asks China to respect sea dispute arbitration

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas, even waters and islands or reefs close to its neighbors. -- With reports from Jekki Pascual, ANC; Kathlyn dela Cruz, ABS-CBN News