Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the replacement of an ailing ambassador who was sent to China three months ago to resolve a territorial rift between the neighbors.
Ambassador Sonia Brady has been hospitalized in Beijing since suffering a stroke last Wednesday. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario visited her over the weekend and said on Monday that her condition is improving.
Del Rosario said Aquino has ordered him to replace Brady, 71, to ensure her full recovery.
Del Rosario said he also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi while he was in Beijing to discuss ways to improve relations, which were strained in April by a tense standoff between Chinese and Philippine government ships at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
Although Aquino has withdrawn two Filipino vessels from the shoal off the northwestern Philippines, Chinese ships have remained in the area. The Chinese have also not removed rope and buoys that were set up at the entry of a sprawling lagoon ringed by rocky outcrops, apparently to keep Philippine fishing boats away, officials say.
"We discussed in broad strokes the need to move forward our bilateral relations," del Rosario said, adding that he renewed an invitation for Yang to visit the Philippines "so we can have a deeper discussion on how our cooperation can be enhanced amid the challenges that confront us."
China opposes a Philippine plan to bring their territorial dispute over the shoal and other areas of the South China Sea to the United Nations for arbitration. The disputed islands and waters are believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.
Tensions between China and Japan have also risen over a separate territorial dispute involving a string of islands in the East China Sea. On Monday, a man attacked a car carrying the Japanese ambassador in Beijing and ripped off the Japanese flag from the front of the vehicle, the embassy said.
The embassy said it issued a strong protest to China's Foreign Ministry, which expressed deep regret.