South China Sea dispute won’t stymie China-Philippines relations: ambassador

By Xie Wenting, Bai Yunyi and Li Sikun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/24 23:45:14

Ahead of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, Philippines Ambassador to China Chito Sta Romana told media on Wednesday that they don't want disputes to "overwhelm" China-Philippines relations.

Romana said while there are still challenges, they hope to resolve them through diplomacy. He also revealed to the media in Beijing that Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte may talk about the South China Sea with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing this week.

"From past experience, it's usually a topic of discussion. We touch, we review, and we move forward," Romana said. "It is a challenge. We have friendly relations, but the issue of the South China Sea is still there. So, the question really is how to compartmentalize it and handle the dispute."

The meeting between Xi and Duterte will not be very long, and there will be a broad review of bilateral relations, regional and international issues of common concern, according to Romana.

Recently there were tensions between China and the Philippines over Zhongye Island where the Philippines claimed there were a large number of Chinese vessels fishing. China has previously addressed the claim.

Romana said the Chinese have "given assurances that they have no plans to use force."

He hopes with Duterte's visit tensions will be eased, with more assurances and understanding from both sides.

"We view China as a partner in development. As for issues over which we have disputes, we think it's possible to manage the risk. We don't view China as a hostile enemy," he stressed.

Romana also revealed that during the 2nd belt and road forum, several contracts will be signed. Some are government to government MOUs and the other is business to business.

"There are supposed to be quite a number. It (the signing ceremony) will be held on Friday afternoon," he said, adding that there are around four or five government-to-government agreements.

The Phillipines signed an MOU on the Belt and Road Initiative last November. Although it is non-binding, the Philippines see an advantage in pursuing opportunities in the BRI.

"We see common interests where we can find synergy to further boost the Philippines' infrastructure program and pursue further opportunities for more cooperation," Romana said.

According to Romana, the fear of a "debt trap" for the Philippines is very remote.

"The Philippines has a respectable credit rating. We have the ability to repay," he said. "We're not relying on Chinese loans, or Japanese loans or one or two countries. It's a diversified portfolio that we seek."

Even if all the Chinese loans are implemented, it will still be less than 5 percent of the Philippines' total foreign debt. "At present, it is less than one percent. So we have no fear that we will not be able to repay," he noted.

The Phillipines will also recive a grant from China, which isn't for any specific project. "In other words, it can be used depending on the Philippine government´s need to use it for a particular project, but it´s not tied to a specific project," said Romana.


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