Trade ties to top Aquino's China visit agenda

Updated: 2011-08-25 07:40

By Cheng Guangjin (China Daily)

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MANILA, the Philippines - Trade ties will top Philippine President Benigno Aquino's first state visit to China, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines said on Wednesday.

Both sides look forward to discussions on "general and overall relations between the two countries", which have experienced many tests but remained "strong", Liu Jianchao told reporters at a news briefing at the Chinese embassy.

The visit, from Aug 30 to Sept 3, will take place shortly after the first anniversary of the botched rescue of Hong Kong hostages in Manila, and a flare-up in disputes in the South China Sea that has strained bilateral ties this year.

Leading a 300-strong delegation, Aquino will visit Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen, the city in East China's Fujian province where his ancestors came from.

A joint statement will be issued and a large number of agreements will be signed during the visit, during which three business forums will also be held, Liu said.

"It's very rare to have three business forums during a single visit," Liu said, noting that they will "serve as a great platform and opportunity for the business leaders of our two countries to better understand each other and further enhance cooperation".

Aquino's delegation will include representatives from all leading companies in the Philippines, which will "cover all sectors in our cooperation", according to Wu Zhengping, economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy.

"China is ready and willing to help strengthen the Philippine economy," said Liu.

The two sides will also sign a number of agreements to promote bilateral cultural and tourism cooperation, according to the ambassador.

In particular, the two countries will seek to strengthen cooperation on tourism infrastructure, promoting tourist attractions and increasing the number of tourists, Liu said.

Tourism was affected after Philippine ex-policeman Rolando Mendoza hijacked a bus carrying 21 Hong Kong tourists, in Manila on Aug 23, 2010.

Police stormed the vehicle and shot Mendoza dead, but eight hostages also died during the rescue attempt.

Hong Kong has maintained its black travel warning for the Philippines, introduced following the hostage crisis, which urges its residents to avoid all travel to the country.

Liu said the central government "respects the decision" of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since Hong Kong exercises a "high level of autonomy", but hopes that the "normal exchange of people in Hong Kong and the Philippines will resume soon".

Aquino expressed deep regret for the deaths of the eight Hong Kong tourists, but rejected calls from the victims' families for a formal apology.

He failed to attend a memorial ceremony for the hostages on Tuesday, which coincided with the arrival of the Philippine navy's newest warship from the United States.

Liu said China is supportive of the modernization drive of the Philippine military and respects the relationship between the US and the Philippines.

"China is strengthening its relationship with both the USand the Philippines. I think there are going to be very positive interactions between countries that are relevant to this region," said Liu, noting that China also has military exchanges with the Philippines, especially in disaster management and rescue.

Liu said the South China Sea issue could potentially affect relations if it is not handled properly.

But "fortunately I do believe both our governments are wise enough to keep it at a level at which our overall relationship will not be affected".

Liu said China is ready to jointly develop the disputed area with other claimants, and wants to reach consensus on the details of such cooperation.

Chen Qinghong, a researcher on Filipino studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said it would be much easier for China and the Philippines to reach a consensus if they focus on economic issues.

Chen said it would be "unrealistic" to expect that Aqunio's visit could lead to the speedy resolution of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

"China and the Philippines know that the problem should be solved step by step, and the two countries are reaching further consensus."

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said earlier that the first-ever meeting between Aquino and President Hu Jintao is "expected to raise the level of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship to its highest level".

Zhang Yunbi contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 08/25/2011 page11)