Manila: The Philippines has assured China that its citizens in the country are safe amid concerns that Chinese nationals were being targeted for kidnap and similar attacks by local groups.

“The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has already reached out to the side of China to reiterate our commitment that their citizens will be protected here in the Philippines just like any visitor who comes to our shores,” Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an interview on Saturday aired over the government-run radio station, dzRB.

The palace’s assurance came on the heels of a report that an 18-year-old Chinese shopkeeper had been kidnapped by several armed men last Thursday evening while minding his parent’s store in Southern Philippines’ Zamboanga Sibugay.

In response the abduction incident, the Chinese Embassy in Manila and the Consulate General in Cebu issued a warning to their nationals not to go to the Philippines in the meantime.

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, during her regular press briefing last Friday — the day after the abduction — said: “In view of the current security situation in the Philippines, the Department of Consular Affairs of China’s Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning that Chinese citizens should not go to the Philippines temporarily and Chinese citizens and institutions in the Philippines should be on higher alert and step up precautions.”

“The Chinese side has always been urging the Philippines to take concrete steps to ensure safety of Chinese institutions and personnel in the Philippines,” Hua said.

The abduction incident also came more than a week after authorities foiled a supposed plot to bomb the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

Lawyer Elly Pamatong, who has figured in past incidents of political mischief, was taken into custody on suspicion that he was behind the plot to bomb the airport and other establishments owned by Filipino-Chinese businessmen. He was later on released.

Pamatong had earlier criticised the Chinese for their intrusion in the country’s territory and for occupying several islets in the South China Sea, which the Philippines also claims.

Valte, when asked during the radio interview if she believes the incidents would further strain China-Philippines relations said ties between the two countries are “multifaceted.”

“Relations between the two countries go beyond the issue relating to the dispute in the West Philippines Sea,” she said.

The Philippines has a sizeable ethnic Chinese population, some had been in the country for several generations and had become pillars of the business and civic community.