The Philippines still sees China as a friend despite the two countries’ dispute over certain areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Tuesday.
“We look at China as a friend. We look at China as a neighbor. We look at China as a partner,” del Rosario said during a budget hearing at the Senate.
He issued the statement after Senator Manny Villar asked him about how the Philippines sees China amid the standoff between the countries over the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).
Both countries are also among the claimants of the Spratlys, a chain of islands and islets in the West Philippine Sea believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits
“I’m very concerned, I don’t know how to look at China now. How do we look at China now in light of what’s happening?” said Villar.
The DFA chief said that as a trading partner, the Philippines “welcomes” China’s emergence as a prosperous country with a strong economy.
“The South China Sea is not the sum total of our relationship [with China]. We should in fact [separate] the contentious issues from the [country’s] bilateral agenda,” he said.
“We do have disputes with them but at the end of the day we hope a positive relationship and a constructive engagement can be obtained in terms of our relations with that country,” he said.
Del Rosario added that although the dispute remains unsettled, they still hope to come up with a “peaceful resolution.”
He explained that the DFA is pushing a three-track approach: the political approach of utilizing the ASEAN and the country’s international partners; the legal approach of pursuing a dispute settlement mechanism under the UNCLOS; and the diplomatic approach of bilateral consultations with China.
Villar then asked if the approach was working for the country.
“Does it seem like we’re succeeding in this strategy? Do we have reasons to be optimistic? Or are things getting worse?” he said.
“Does it seem like our ASEAN neighbors are going to help us? Are we alone in this?” he added.
But Del Rosario said that since the issue was a complex diplomatic problem, he said he would prefer to discuss the details in an executive session, to which Villar agreed.
“It’s a complex issue, it’s a difficult issue and I think that that it’s not an issue that can be resolved within a short period of time,” said the DFA chief.
At the same time, he called on the public to have “one voice” amid the dispute.
“It would be helfpul if the Philippines can stand together and we should have one voice in terms of expressing our stand. We are appealing for the unity of our people in addressing our issues,” he said.
On this point, Villar agreed and said he even supports the position of President Benigno Aquino III on the issue.
“I think we have to speak with one voice and there should be one position,” he said. – BM, GMA News