China will work with whoever wins the Philippine presidential election and has no history of meddling in another country’s internal politics, Beijing’s envoy to Manila said on Saturday. “China never interferes in the internal politics of other countries and an election is the internal politics of the Philippines,” Huang Xilian said at a forum to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies. “We believe the Philippine people have the wisdom to choose their own leader.” Huang’s comments put to rest speculation by some Philippine analysts that China has a “ Manchurian candidate ” of choice it is secretly helping and hoping would win the May 9 race. This term, for a politician used as a puppet by a foreign or hostile power, was made famous by a 1959 fictional Cold War thriller in which the son of an American political family returns from service in the Korean war having been brainwashed by Chinese and Russian communists. Who’s who in Philippine presidential election, and their China policies Huang also told the Manila-based think tank’s gathering that China-Philippines ties have deepened in the past five years. “Under the guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Philippine counterpart President Rodrigo Duterte , our bilateral relations had gained a new momentum and served the interests of both sides,” he said, adding that Beijing would work with the new leader to continue the upswing in bilateral ties. The Chinese embassy, particularly under Huang, has been widely perceived to be close to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jnr, the front runner in the contest. Last October, the envoy and Marcos Jnr jointly inaugurated at the embassy a photo exhibition celebrating the history of the two countries’ relations. On the diplomatic front, Huang took a swipe at “some countries” that were pursuing an Indo-Pacific strategy, saying the move is to “force states in the region to contain China and it strongly opposes this effort.” Addressing the same event, Chito Sta Romana, the Philippine ambassador to Beijing, said it would be a “wise choice for the next president to continue the path of engagement with China on the basis of friendly cooperation and mutual benefit.” Sta Romana highlighted the bilateral “gains” made in recent years, including the establishment of a two-way consultation mechanism to address the South China Sea dispute and sharing military intelligence. Philippine presidential front runner ducks South China Sea issue Beijing is Manila’s top trade partner, particularly in the export sectors of integrated circuits, semiconductors and nickel ores, he added. In 2019, 1.7 million Chinese tourists visited the Philippines, famous for its white sand beaches, and spent US$2.3 billion. China also lent a hand in the Philippines’ Covid-19 fight, donating 5 million vaccine doses. Sta Romana, however, offered a word of caution for the next administration. “Going forward, what serves as our compass is our national interest, as embodied in the Philippine Constitution and international law,” he said. “It is our country’s key interest to create and uphold policies that defend our sovereignty and patrimony in the West Philippine Sea,” the diplomat said, using a term to describe the eastern parts of the South China Sea that are within Manila’s exclusive economic zone and territorial waters. Both envoys agreed that any differences between the two nations can be solved amicably. Sta Romana said “we do not regard these differences as the sum total of Philippine relations” while Huang expressed confidence that disagreements will be settled through friendly consultations. “Close neighbours are better than distant relatives,” he added.