MANILA (UPDATE) - China on Thursday said it would not retaliate should the Philippines deport its citizens found illegally working in the country.
In a rare statement, the Chinese Embassy in Manila made the assurance that it respects Philippine sovereignty and would not adopt a "tit-for-tat" approach should the Philippines deport illegal Chinese workers here.
"The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines did not say that Beijing would adopt a 'tit-for-tat' approach should the Philippine government deport Chinese nationals found working illegally in the country," it said.
"China respects the laws and regulations of the Philippines regarding employment of foreign nationals in the country, and holds that Chinese nationals should not stay or work illegally in foreign countries including the Philippines," it added.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said he could not deport Chinese workers in the Philippines in fear of Filipinos being deported from China.
There are an estimated 300,000 Filipinos in China, according to Duterte. The stock estimate of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas in 2013, the latest available data, places the figure at 201,094 in Hong Kong and 29,691 in the mainland.
Malacañang later clarified that immigration laws would be fully enforced against illegal foreign workers in the Philippines.
"Chinese law enforcement agencies will continue to properly handle relevant issues concerning foreign nationals working illegally in China in accordance with laws and regulations," Beijing said.
Senators have launched an investigation into the reported influx of foreign workers in the Philippines, particularly Chinese nationals, to see whether foreigners were taking over jobs that could have been for Filipinos.
China also called on its own people staying in the Philippines to observe local laws, noting it has issued consular notices over the matter.
Recently, a Chinese national was arrested for throwing her drink at a Filipino police officer on a train station while another is facing deportation over charges of child molestation.
"The Chinese Government has always requested Chinese nationals in the Philippines to observe the Philippine laws and regulations," it said.
Relations between the Philippines and China have warmed under Duterte despite unresolved disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea.
In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping came to Manila in a historic visit, a first for a Chinese leader in 13 years, during which he reiterated Beijing's relations with Manila.