President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Friday said China had been the “strongest partner” of the Philippines despite ongoing disputes on the West Philippine Sea.

At the Award for Promoting Philippines-China Understanding event, Marcos Jr. said a good partnership between the two countries would be beneficial, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Come to the day that we can say…we are beyond the pandemic crisis, we are beyond the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic—we can only do it, certainly, in the Philippines, with our partners. And our strongest partner has always been, in that regard, our close neighbor and our good friend, the People’s Republic of China,” Marcos Jr. said in his speech.

“As we try to make our way in the post-pandemic world…each country will not be able to thrive, to survive and to thrive by itself. We have developed such a close global community in both in politics, both in diplomacy, also in business,” he added.

Marcos Jr. is set to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte, who has had a close relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping throughout his term.

Duterte has not pressed China on the country’s claims over the West Philippine Sea, saying he was not willing to go to war.

Duterte has been widely criticized for his lack of insistence on the country’s arbitral victory over China since assuming the presidency in 2016. John Ezekiel J. Hirro