MANILA— The Chinese ambassador to Manila on Friday expressed confidence that the relationship between China and the Philippines could withstand differences following an incident last week at the Ayungin Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
In a Facebook post, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said it was “normal” for differences to occur “even among best friends and neighbors.”
While not specifically referring to any incident, he made the statement amid tensions after the Chinese Coast Guard's blocking and water cannon attack against Filipino supply boats at the Ayungin Shoal on Nov. 16.
“China and the Philippines are close neighbors. We have a thousand reasons to seek peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation. It is just normal to have differences even among best friends and neighbors," Huang said.
"What matters is how we handle and manage those differences in the spirit of seeking common ground while shelving differences,” he added.
Huang said "the giant vessel of China-Philippines friendship will stay on an even keel and sail toward a brighter future" should both countries adhere to the principle of mutual respect.
The Philippines has expressed outrage and protest over the Nov. 16 incident, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. reminding Huang that public vessels are covered by the Philippines and United States Mutual Defense Treaty.
Locsin also pointed out that Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, being “an integral part” of the Philippines, its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
China insisted that the Philippine supply boats trespassed into Chinese waters “without China's consent” and reiterated its demand for the Philippines to “honor its commitment and remove” its grounded vessel BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, saying the delivery of food and supplies to Philippine troops stationed there was a “provisional, special arrangement out of humanitarian considerations.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denied such a commitment was made by the Philippines.
China, which claims virtually all the South China Sea, had said the reef was part of its territory, but a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of Manila.
China claims sovereignty over vast swathes of the South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have lodged competing claims for some of the islands.
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