China's foreign ministry on Friday (September 23) declined to confirm a rumored visit from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Diplomats in the Philippines are in talks with counterparts in Japan and China to arrange visits for their controversial president at the end of next month, officials in Manila said on Friday.
Dates were still being worked out for the proposed trips by the outspoken leader, several officials said, remaining anonymous because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told media in Beijing that China welcomed Duterte's visit at "an early date".
"China has already said several times that it welcomes President Duterte to visit China at an early date. We hope he will visit soon. Both China and the Philippines are in close contact with each other," he said.
Philippine relations with Japan are warm but those with China have long been frosty over territorial wrangles in the South China Sea.
Duterte has repeatedly said conflict was pointless and he wants to get along and do business with Beijing.
"Any two countries will have disagreements here and there between them but are the disagreements really that big? We said this before, as long as both the Philippines and China continue to maintain the political will to reconcile our differences, there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome," Lu added.
China and the Philippines are trying to find a way to break the ice after a verdict by an arbitral court in The Hague in July invalidated China's claims to most of the South China Sea and gave Manila the legal high ground in the dispute.
A Japanese foreign ministry official has confirmed plans were being made for a visit.
The proposed October visits would be among Duterte's first as president in what has been a colorful, at times dramatic first three months in office.
He attended a summit of Asian leaders in Laos earlier this month and has been to Indonesia. He is due to visit Vietnam next week.