Better relations with China, better economic opportunities for PH - experts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Relations between the Philippines and China have been strained in the past years because of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

In November 2015, the Aquino administration filed a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands to settle the issue regarding China's claim over almost the entire South China Sea. The arbitral tribunal is expected to release its decision this year.

As the two countries commemorate the 41st Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day on Thursday, former Ambassador Alberto Encomienda said it's about time to rekindle strong ties between Manila and Beijing.

Encomienda spearheaded the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center under the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) during the Arroyo administration.

"The Arroyo administration tried and experimented on joint development, joint cooperation," Encomienda said. "That is how we tried to manage the problem. No confrontation especially highlighting sovereignty issues, no. We do thing cooperatively. But then again, as I said, things changed after this new administration came in, I mean 2010."

Analysts believe the country's economy will benefit from rebuilding bilateral relations.

George Sy of Integrated Development Studies Institute said a strong bilateral relations would unlock opportunities for the Philippines.

"The more friends we make, the more opportunities, the more financing, the more technologies we have," Sy said.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he was open to holding bilateral talks with China on the dispute.

Atty. Paola Alvarez, spokesperson of Duterte's PDP-Laban, said the welfare of the Filipino people would be at the forefront of the incoming administration's foreign policy.

"The President-elect's policy, when it comes to foreign policies, is that we will be a Filipino-first policy. We will not isolate nor sever ties with our current allies but we will also be able to negotiations and talks with other nations that can benefit the Philippines," Alvarez said.

Encomienda said the visit of Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua to Duterte last month indicated an openness on both sides to rebuild confidence.

"Having been there for all my career, this initials show the Ambassador of China and Xi Jinping himself and President-elect Duterte is a good beginning," he said.

The former ambassador believes the South China Sea unites — rather than divides — the Philippines and China.

Related: Favorable ruling on sea row to give PH leverage