The Philippines has been "one-sidedly" favouring the US over the years, but is now trying to balance it, said the new Philippine ambassador to China, Jose Santiago "Chito" Sta Romana. Referring to President Rodrigo Duterte's past comments on forging new ties with the Asian neighbour, he said the move represented "a strategic shift in our foreign policy".

Beijing and Manila have been at loggerheads for years due to the longstanding South China Sea dispute, in which the former claims territorial rights over most parts of the sea. Duterte's predecessor had taken the matter to the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled in the Philippines' favour in July, angering the Beijing administration.

However, Duterte visited China in October and initiated a new friendship with the country. He had even said that he would set aside the territorial dispute to pave the way for stronger ties with China. The Philippine president has also been issuing statements on ending ties with the US, but has not been consistent on the stand.

Sta Romana, a former Beijing-based journalist, explained that the Philippines was "one-sidedly imbalanced in favour of the US".

"We are not abandoning our alliance with the US.... We are basically trying to normalise our relations with China," the incoming envoy told Agence France Presse.

He added that relations with Washington soured after it criticised Duterte's ongoing war against illegal drugs. "The problem came after they began lecturing him. The president considers it an internal affair. The Chinese don't comment on your internal affairs," Sta Romana said.

He added that Manila was willing to work with Beijing to access resources in the disputed South China Sea region. He said: "The Chinese viewed the Philippines as a geopolitical pawn or Trojan horse of the US. Now they look at us as a friendly neighbour."

Duterte's China visit
The new Philippine ambassador to China, Jose Santiago 'Chito' Sta Romana., said the country was one-sidedly leaning towards the US but is now trying to normalise relations with China - File photo REUTERS/Thomas Peter