President Rodrigo Roa Duterte unveils the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge Project Marker during the inauguration ceremony in Manila on April 5, 2022. With the President are Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, Public Works and Highways Acting Secretary Roger Mercado, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. (MNS photo)

MANILA, Apr 6 (Mabuhay) — Despite the Philippines’ long-standing sea disputes with China, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Tuesday reaffirmed the two nations’ good relations, stressing that the unresolved maritime claims could be settled through diplomatic negotiations.

Duterte made the remarks, as he thanked the Chinese government for being a “partner” of the Philippines in its ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.

Acknowledging China’s support for his infrastructure program, Duterte said Manila has no rift with Beijing.

“I also thank and with gratitude the People’s Republic of China for the confidence and for being a partner in enhancing key infrastructure projects in our country,” Duterte said during the inauguration of Binondo-Intramuros Bridge in Intramuros, the City of Manila which was also attended by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian.

Addressing the Chinese envoy, Duterte added: “Ambassador Huang, the Philippines and China, we don’t have any quarrel.”

Duterte also said the Philippines and China can also discuss their territorial disputes and the Filipinos’ fishing rights within the contested waters.

“We can talk about the Spratly Islands and probably the fishing rights of my countrymen, plain talk, nothing else. In doing so, our people are given the chance to experience economic growth and enhance productivity,” he said.

Duterte’s statement came amid China’s expansive maritime claims in the hotly contested South China Sea and reported incursions into the Philippine waters.

On March 14, the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned Huang after a People’s Liberation Army – Navy vessel was caught in “illegal incursions” into the Sulu Sea in January and February this year.

Duterte is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 8.

Xi sought a dialogue with Duterte in light of a possible spillover of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to Asia, including the Philippines and China.

Malacañang, however, was not privy to the issues that Duterte might discuss with Xi. (MNS)