MANILA - China on Friday called on the Philippines to work together to quell the COVID-19 pandemic amid "differences" between the two countries.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian claimed it's normal for the neighboring countries to have disputes, but insisted on a "mature and constructive manner" to settle them.
"Facing the pandemic, it is a top priority for both of our two countries to work together to defeat the pandemic and bring the economy and people’s life back on track. China and the Philippines are neighbors that cannot be moved away. For neighbors, it is normal to have differences," Huang said in a speech at a summit of the Philippines International Chamber of Commerce and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"What matters is that we handle them in a mature and constructive manner. This serves the mutual benefits of our countries and meets the common aspiration of our people," he said.
Huang blamed some countries for allegedly trying to sow discord between the Philippines and China.
"We would eventually know who the real friends and reliable partners are," he claimed, adding he believes the relationship between Manila and Beijing will "withstand the test of time."
His statement came amid high tensions between the neighboring countries over the hotly-contested South China Sea.
Personnel from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources are conducting maritime exercises in Philippine waters, as Chinese ships have been sighted there since early March defying instructions from Filipino officials to withdraw.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of China's foreign ministry, last Monday claimed Beijing has sovereignty over what it calls the Nansha Islands, or the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea, urging the Philippines to stop its naval activities in the area.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in response, said Beijing has "no authority or legal basis to prevent" Manila from conducting maritime exercises in the disputed waters.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. also directed his agency to file another diplomatic protest against China due to Wang's claims.
A UN-backed arbitration court invalidated China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea in a ruling in 2016. Beijing continues to disregard it.
The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Due to China's aggression in the disputed waters, the US military has aggressively ramped up its presence in the area, calling it an exercise of freedom of navigation.