A senior official said Friday China wants to improve relations with the Philippines following a strain in relations over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying made the comments in a meeting with President Benigno Aquino III. A Philippine statement said she carried a message from President Hu Jintao that China places great importance on its friendship with the Philippines and wants to move relations forward. Ties have been strained following a standoff early this year at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea. Philippine ships have subsequently pulled out of Scarborough Shoal. Chinese vessels have been in and out of the shoal.

China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have claims to South China Sea islands and waters that are believed to be rich in gas and oil and straddle busy shipping routes.

Aquino said Wednesday ties are gradually warming after recent talks. On Friday, he told Fu that Manila wants a peaceful and stable region and wants to find solutions to issues of mutual concern.

He called for the setting of achievable targets in bilateral ties and a timetable to fulfill them.

Fu met Aquino after holding annual bilateral talks with Philippine diplomats. In a statement before her meeting with Aquino, Fu said the two sides agreed to work together to implement a consensus reached between the two countries' leaders and to promote bilateral exchanges at all levels.

The consensus includes doubling bilateral trade to $60 billion and two-way tourism arrivals to 2 million by 2016.

"The two sides also had candid and in-depth discussions on the issues existing in their relations and agreed to maintain the dialogue and properly address differences, so as to avoid negative impact on bilateral cooperation," Fu said.

Diplomats also exchanged instruments of ratification for a treaty on mutual assistance in criminal matters. The pact takes effect next month and should boost cooperation in cracking down on criminals.