MANILA: The Philippines dispatched a new ambassador to China on Friday with a mandate to improve ties amid a festering territorial dispute between the South China Sea neighbours, the foreign department said.
Ambassador Erlinda Basilio left for Beijing to assume her post, which had been vacant since August last year, department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
"Erlinda Basilio's mandate is to improve Philippine-China relations through projects," Hernandez said in a statement to the press.
He made no direct reference to the stand-off between Manila and Beijing that began in April 2012 in waters around the Scarborough Shoal, when Chinese ships prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen.
Beijing insists the shoal, an outcropping of rocks much nearer to the Philippines than the Chinese mainland, is part of Chinese territory.
Hernandez in his statement instead cited commitments forged by Philippine and Chinese leaders in 2011 to boost ties, particularly economic, sports, tourism and "people-to-people relations".
The previous Filipino envoy to China, Sonia Brady, had suffered a stroke in August last year, forcing her recall by Manila and leaving the post vacant amid the territorial dispute.
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 claims are contested by the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, which have overlapping claims to some or all of those same areas.
Diplomatic sources said Basilio had helped draft the Philippines' hardline stance against China's controversial claims, which has irked Beijing.
President Benigno Aquino named Basilio to the vacated post in December even if it meant the 68-year-old leaving her more senior position as foreign undersecretary. (AFP)