THE problem between the Philippines and China is the fact that they lie so close to each other and yet are so far apart in matters that should have been of mutual interest for both of them. An example is the issue on who owns parts of the West Philippine Sea (which China calls the South China Sea).

And yet the Chinese ambassador to our country has openly said that our country can handle our differences with China and would be able to take care of more mature relations. President Aquino for his part said that the relationship between the Philippines and China could very well improve for as long as it is based on mutual respect for one another.

"In trade and investment, as with all other aspects of the relations between the Philippines and China, there is much that we can improve on--as long as our relationship is strengthened by mutual respect, the determination to maintain fairness and harmony, and a firm commitment to the rule of law," Aquino said.

The President made this statement during the early celebration of Independence Day by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) that was held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

The Chinese ambassador also took note of the “relevant statements” made by presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda on China-Philippines relation.

“We believe that our two countries can properly handle our differences,” Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said.

“We look forward to working with the Philippines to further promote bilateral commerce, trade, tourism and people-to-people exchanges so as to make sure our bilateral relations can enjoy a bright and prosperous future,” he added.

On the other hand, the International Tribunal on the Law of the sea (Itlos) may decide in the early part of 2016 on the merit of the case filed by the Philippines against China in connection with the West Philippine Sea dispute.

The Philippines was forced to seek arbitration over its territorial dispute with China because bilateral talks reached a dead end. China is insisting that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire South China Sea.

China refused to participate in the proceedings and questioned the jurisdiction of the Itlos in handling the issue. It has long insisted that the Philippines, as well as other countries with overlapping claims over territories in the South China Sea, should resolve the issues bilaterally.

The Philippines hopes it will get a favorable ruling from Itlos considering the pieces of evidence that it has presented to bolster its claim of ownership over areas in the West Philippine Sea. It will be a big victory diplomatically even if China will not recognize the decision.