MANILA – Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on Friday said China is "not seeking trouble" amid unresolved disputes in the South China Sea as he downplayed the sighting of Chinese research vessels and warships in Philippine waters.
This, amid recent tensions over Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Beijing claims nearly all of the resource-rich waters.
“There are a lot of ships that [are] navigating in the South China Sea. Within military, I think each one of the ships, particularly Navy ships, deserves careful observation. Not only the Chinese and the Philippines know but also everyone,” Zhao said on the sidelines of an event at the Department of the Interior and Local Government where the Chinese government donated P10 million to victims of recent quakes in Batanes.
“One thing that I would like to assure the Filipino government and the Filipino people: it is our determination to seek final peaceful solution to the differences we have. We’re not seeking conflict, we’re not seeking trouble. That’s for sure,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier raised alarm after two Chinese research ships were monitored by a US-based maritime expert in the West Philippine Sea this week.
China, Lorenzana said, also did not ask for clearance before several of its warships passed through the Sibutu Strait in the Philippines' southern tip in 4 instances from February to July.
The incidents have prompted a diplomatic protest from Manila.
Beijing claims large parts of the South China Sea through which roughly $3.4 trillion in shipping passes each year. Countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest the territorial claims.
But the bitter maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing has eased under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has sought improved economic ties with Asia’s largest economy.
Zhao said despite the tension involving the Chinese ships, he believes Manila and Beijing’s ties remain on solid ground.
“China will continue to be a good friend, a good neighbor and close relatives of the Filipino people,” he said.
“The differences over South China Sea only constitutes one percent over overall relationships,” he added.