Philippine President Benigno Aquino named a senior diplomat as ambassador to Beijing on Wednesday, saying it showed Manila was serious about resolving a tense stand-off over territory in the South China Sea.
Erlinda Basilio, 68, who as a foreign department undersecretary helped draft national diplomatic policy, will take over a post that was effectively vacant as the two neighbours’ quarrel over the Scarborough Shoal simmered.
Previous ambassador Sonia Brady suffered a stroke in August, four months after Chinese patrol vessels prevented the Philippine navy from arresting what the Philippine side described as Chinese poachers in Manila’s waters.
“This sends a signal of how important our relations with China are and how serious we are in trying to achieve an understanding with them,” Aquino said of Basilio’s appointment.
China claims most of the South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of its neighbours. These areas include major sea lanes and are believed to hold vast mineral and oil resources.
China’s claim is contested by the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, which have overlapping claims to some or all of those same areas.
Since the April stand-off, the Philippines has repeatedly brought up the dispute with China at international meetings while China has tried to brush it aside, stressing its preference for rival claims to be settled bilaterally.
Diplomatic sources said Basilio had helped draft the Philippines’ hardline stance against China’s controversial claims, which have irked Beijing.
The foreign department said in a statement that Basilio was well-versed on the issues, adding: “we are relying on her to enhance the bilateral relations between the Philippines and our very important neighbour and friend, China”.
Basilio previously served as ambassador to Sweden and representative to the Philippine mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva.