PHL, China to forge $60-B trade, investment program
Despite geopolitical tensions brewing over the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), China and the Philippines intend to forge a $60-billion investment program over the next five years.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday the multibillion-dollar investment program is among six agreements Chinese and Filipino officials will forge during President Benigno Aquino III’s five-day state visit to China next week.
Aquino will have 200 to 250 Filipino businessmen as part of the Philippine entourage during his state visit.
“We always have targets and we won’t have this target kung hindi magiging posible. We will work hard but I think it could be done,” DFA Assistant Secretary for Asia and Pacific Affairs Cristina Ortega said of the $60 billion-dollar goal of the trade and economic cooperation program Filipino and Chinese officials will sign next week.
Ortega said the sectors included in the program are infrastructure, mining, energy, information and tourism. An “Implementing Program” on a memorandum of understanding on tourism will also be forged.
Joint mineral exploration
“The Chinese government is willing to negotiate with the Philippines and other claimant countries for joint exploration activities in the Spratlys,” said Chinese Ambassador to Manila Liu Jianchao in another press briefing Wednesday at his residence in Makati City.
The Philippines and China will tackle the South China Sea disputes when Aquino meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao next week, according to Ambassador Liu.
“We have to reach consensus. We need to have further dialogue and consultations on how to go about it,” said Liu.
“We do hope that this [joint activity] will materialize as soon as possible,” he said. “We believe this is the best way for claimant countries to have an opportunity for cooperation.”
President Aquino will also meet with Premiere Wen Jiabao and Chairman Wu Bangguo of the National People’s Congress, according to the DFA.
“We will have a joint statement of the Philippines and China… that will be crafted during and right after the state visit to China… I don’t think we can preempt the joint statement but I would assume that there would be a line or two on the West Philippine Sea,” said Ortega.
She believed that the President would just say a few words on the matter. “You know, saying in a general way that we agree to disagree but we will keep our lines of communication. We will keep on talking and hopefully this state visit would improve or raise our bilateral relations with China on a higher level,” she said.
Ortega also said it is unlikely that there will be a special agreement on the West Philippine Sea during the visit.
“An agreement regarding territorial or maritime disputes is not very easy to have. Hindi ‘yun mangyayari, maraming claimants, as you already know, and we are pushing for the multilateral approach. Since there are many claimants in the South China Sea and because this is a problem of the region then the answer would be multilateral or a regional,” she said.
Multilateral and bilateral ties
During last month’s ASEAN Ministerial Meetings in Bali, Indonesia, the Philippines proposed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations the adoption of a binding agreement establishing a zone of peace, freedom and stability in the South China Sea.
Two major groups of islands — namely Spratlys and Paracels — are being claimed in whole by China while some parts are being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
The Philippine proposal sought to delineate the disputed islands from the non-disputed areas and establish joint exploration projects with claimant countries.
Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China were established on June 9, 1975. Since then, China has been the Philippines’ third largest trading partner and fourth largest source of tourists as well as the fourth largest source of development assistance.
An economic agenda
During his state visit, President Aquino will visit the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen to keynote three important fora. In Beijing, he will address the Philippine-Chinese Economic and Trade Forum.
In one-on-one meetings with Chinese businessmen, the President will promote government’s public-private partnership program.
Among those in the 13-man delegation of President Aquino are DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II, and Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
“The visit hopes to push for more trade, investment, media, culture, education and tourism exchanges between both sides. It will also showcase the Philippines as an attractive and profitable business destination,” Ortega said.
Aquino will also speak before the High Level Forum with Yangtze River Delta government officials and business enterprises in Shanghai.
In Xiamen, the President will address the Philippine-Fujian Business Conference.
PNoy’s Chinese ancestors
While in Xiamen, President Aquino will also visit Hongjian Park where the Sino-Philippine Memorial Hall was built in honor of his mother, the late President Corazon C. Aquino.
Ortega said the President is from the Su clan in Hongjian Village.
“We will find some kin of the President. So the President will be there, will visit that Memorial Hall, and then he will light an incense to honor his ancestors in that village,” she said.
Welfare of Filipino migrants
President Aquino will meet the Filipino community in each of three cities he will visit for an overview on how the more than 12,700 Filipinos live and work in China.
Asked if the President will take the opportunity to seek reprieve for Filipinos facing the death penalty in China, Ortega said Aquino will most likely not go into that area.
“Not at this time. I don’t think so… We would like to assist and protect Filipinos. At the same time, we cannot be seen as a country that condones drug-trafficking,” she said.
She said the Philippine embassy provides lawyers and visits Filipinos jailed in China’s prisons and detention facilities, some of whom are in for offenses involving illegal drugs.
There will be discussions on stronger anti-drug trafficking efforts when President Aquino meets Chinese officials, according to the DFA official.
“We have plans of having a sort of an agreement with China to work together on this issue, especially on transnational crimes — hindi lang drugs — pati people trafficking, smuggling. It’s all in one, you know, in one agreement siguro ‘yan,” she said.
Sports, culture, information
During the state visit, Chinese and Philippines officials will sign a memorandum of understanding between the Presidential Communications Operations Office and China’s State Council Information Office on Friendly Exchanges.
A memorandum of understanding on sports cooperation and an exchange of letters on the Executive Program of the Philippines-China Cultural Agreement are also on the agenda.
Ortega said the agreements will highlight “the centuries-old friendship between the Philippines and China, and our desire to promote more exchanges and better understanding between our peoples.” — ELR/VS/HS, GMA News