MANILA — Cooperation against the coronavirus pandemic "further cemented" the 45-year-old diplomatic ties between the Philippines and China, Beijing's envoy to Manila said Tuesday.
Consultations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea are also going "smoothly and effectively," Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said on the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
"Through joining hands to fight against the COVID-19, the foundation of China-Philippines relations have been further cemented, people-to-people ties strengthened, and the sense of building a community of shared future deepened," Huang said.
The Philippines this month began easing nearly 3-month long virus quarantines that bloated the unemployment rate to a record and caused the economy to shrink for the first time in 22 years.
The virus that has claimed some 400,000 lives worldwide was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The lockdowns in Wuhan and Metro Manila are among the world's longest.
Tuesday also marked a year since China's sinking of Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver in Recto Bank. The Filipino fishermen were abandoned at sea and were later rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.
Ties between China and the Philippines flourished under President Rodrigo Duterte, who refused to flaunt Manila's victory before a UN-backed arbitration court that invalidated Beijing's vast sea claims.
Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, initiated the arbitration case that was decided a month after the incumbent took office in 2016.
"Recently, ships and planes carrying critical medical supplies are sailing and flying over the South China Sea, making it a sea of friendship, mutual support and cooperation," Huang said on Tuesday.
ANNIVERSARY OF GEM-VER SINKING
On June 9, 2019, a Chinese vessel rammed into a Filipino fishing boat and turned off its lights before leaving the 22 Filipino fishermen at sea.
Beijing said the Chinese crewmen attempted to rescue the Filipino fishermen but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."
Satellite imagery and eyewitness statements however showed that the Gem-Ver was the only vessel anchored in the area at the time.
It took the survivors several hours of rowing before reaching the nearest vessel – a Vietnamese boat – whose crew rescued the Filipinos.
Two months later, the shipowner of the Chinese fishing boat apologized, with his association that the shipowner describing the allision as accidental and “an unintentional mistake of the Chinese fishermen.”
The anniversary of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and China coincides with Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day. The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said ties between the 2 nations remained warm despite their differences.
“The DFA looks forward to a continuing friendship and mutually beneficial relations between the peoples of the Philippines and China, which would translate to specific contributions to peace and harmony in the Asia Pacific Region,” the agency said in a tweet.