President Aquino upbeat on eve of China visit
As he embarks on his first state visit to China on Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino III said he was confident Manila and Beijing would be able to ease the tensions brought about by their conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea, and emerge with a more mature relationship, and stronger trade ties.
Meeting visiting Chinese media last Friday, President Aquino likened the conflict between the two countries to that of a married couple.
“(P)erhaps I can use the analogy of a marriage. It is said that there are couples who have been together 50 years and they are still getting to know each other. So, perhaps the conflicts provide an opportunity to have the test that makes for a stronger relationship,” Mr. Aquino said.
“Can we deal with it? Yes. Both sides have said that we would conform to international law…Both countries want to resolve it in a peaceful manner,” he said.
The President said he had always believed that “every problem presents opportunities,” adding that “it is in the interest of both sides to exploit the opportunities that the problem presents.”
“And after coming out with the resolution of that problem, then both parties are stronger for it and even the relationship can be enhanced by it,” he said.
“We want to strengthen bilateral ties,” President Aquino stressed to the Chinese media.
China is the Philippine’s third largest trading partner and the fourth in terms of overseas development assistance.
According to Mr. Aquino’s aides, the two sides could sign during the five-day visit a five-year economic plan that would target $60 billion in trade in 2016, a six-fold increase from 2010.
Assistant Foreign Secretary Cristina Ortega told local reporters one immediate contract might be sealed involving a Chinese car manufacturer investing at least $1.5 billion in the Philippines.
China has also signaled it does not want the maritime tensions to derail a flourishing economic partnership.
Economy taking off
“The Philippine economy is taking off, and I have told the Philippine people that China is ready and willing to add power to the wings of the Philippine economy,” Chinese Ambassador to Manila Liu Jianchao told reporters in a separate briefing about Mr. Aquino’s visit.
China has scoured the world in recent years for all kinds of natural resources to fuel its fast-developing economy and provide the raw materials for its phenomenal manufacturing sector.
“I think we do have great potential in the area of mining,” Liu said when asked what types of investments China was looking at in its fellow Asian country.
“I think that the mining companies, mining corporations of China and the mine owners of this country can have direct and efficient… negotiations for furthering their cooperation,” he said.
Philippine officials have also said they will be seeking Chinese investments in a raft of infrastructure projects, from rail to roads, airports and schools.
There is also a significant Philippine investment in China, and Mr. Aquino is hoping his trip would deepen his country’s presence in the world’s second-biggest economy.
And in an effort to attract more Chinese tourists, Mr. Aquino’s delegation would also press China to declare 2013 “Visit the Philippines Year.”
Mr. Aquino will be bringing 200 to 300 Filipino businessmen with him.
In the meeting with Chinese media, the President revealed that there were already about 450 businessmen who had made known their desire to join his delegation and admitted that it was getting more difficult to accommodate everybody.
“Practically all of the major business groups in this country will be with us in the delegation,” Mr. Aquino said, noting that “this was just another step of further broadening trade aspects between our countries.’’
The President said he wanted “to mature our relationship with the People’s Republic of China and its people” through “fruitful” dialogue that can only happen when a party considers “the views, thoughts of the other side.”
Visit to ancestral town
Mr. Aquino confirmed he would visit Xiamen, the hometown of his mother’s relatives in Fujian province.
The late President Corazon Aquino made a trip to Fujian to trace her ancestral roots 19 years ago.
“I understand my mother planted a tree about twenty years ago. It should be really big, quite a tall tree now,” he said, expressing his thanks to those who took care of it.
“And we have a saying in Filipino that those who don’t remember their past will not be able to get to their future. My great great great grandfather came from there. Our culture has undoubtedly been enriched by all of these interactions stretching through the centuries. One would definitely benefit from renewing the ties and “retracing” the root.
“Their community produced my ancestor who was nurtured enough to be able to endeavor enough the entrepreneurial ability to cross the oceans, come here and really make a successful life for himself. I would like to thank them for giving him the impetus to travel to the Philippines to start our roots here and without that effort, I would not be here right now,” he told the Chinese delegation.
Mr. Aquino recalled that China was the first country to invite him to visit when he came into office last year.