China to PH: We can properly handle differences

MANILA, Philippines – On the 40th anniversary of Philippine-China relations, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said the two countries can "properly handle" their differences as he acknowledged "positive remarks" from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.

"We have taken note of President Aquino's positive remarks at Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry's Celebration of the 117th Anniversary of Independence of the Republic of the Philippines, and relevant statements by Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on China-Philippines relations yesterday," Zhao said in a statement Tuesday, June 9.

He added: "We believe that our two countries can properly handle our differences. We look forward to working with the Philippines to further promote bilateral commerce, trade, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges so as to make sure our bilateral relations can enjoy a bright and prosperous future."

Zhao made this statement as the Philippines and China mark a historic milestone on Tuesday, in the face of a dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

It is the fourth decade after then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai on June 9, 1975, signed a joint communiqué to establish Philippine-China relations. (READ: In Numbers: Philippines-China relations)

Chinese businessmen, however, cancelled a huge anniversary celebration on Monday evening, June 8, after Aquino – for the second time – compared China to Nazi Germany.

The event's organizers, instead, chose to celebrate only the Philippines' Independence Day – without the Chinese ambassador and with Aquino as the guest of honor.

ENVOY NOT THERE. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III attends the Independence Day celebration of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc on June 8, 2015. Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua doesn't attend the event. Photo by Gil Nartea/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

ENVOY NOT THERE. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III attends the Independence Day celebration of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc on June 8, 2015. Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua doesn't attend the event.

Photo by Gil Nartea/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

In his speech before Filipino-Chinese businessmen on Monday evening, Aquino diverted the audience's focus from the South China Sea dispute. Not once did he mention the issue.

He told an audience initially pegged at around 1,200, "Today, we gather as friends."

Aquino then urged the Philippines and China to strengthen their relationship with "mutual respect, the determination to maintain fairness and harmony, and a firm commitment to the rule of law."

"It is my hope that we all bear this in mind, as we commemorate the independence of the Philippines – an occasion that likewise underscores our interdependence with the world and, consequently, our desire, then as today, to be and to act as a responsible member of the community of nations," Aquino said.

Hours before this, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda capitalized on Aquino's Chinese roots as he downplayed Aquino's statements likening China, one of the Philippines' biggest trading partners, to Nazi Germany. 

He said it is not difficult for Aquino to relate to the Filipino Chinese, "he himself being a descendant also of Chinese ancestry."

Lacierda said, "We have a multi-level relationship with China." – Rappler.com