BEIJING (AP) — The Philippine president urged Chinese companies on Wednesday to invest more in his country despite a territorial spat and pledged they would receive open and equal access.
President Benigno Aquino III, starting a weeklong visit to China, said the economic climate is ideal for Chinese companies to invest in the Philippines' growing tourism, agriculture and infrastructure industries.
"China is an economic power. I now invite the Chinese business community to take part in this opportunity to invest in an emerging economic force in Southeast Asia," Aquino told the Philippines-China Economic and Trade Forum.
About 300 business leaders joined Aquino on the trip to China, which lags the U.S. and Japan as the Philippines' third-largest trading partner.
The two sides signed an agreement Wednesday on a five-year plan to boost trade six-fold to $60 billion. They also agreed to promote tourism and language training.
Aquino also held talks with his counterpart Hu Jintao, who said he wanted to boost relations.
"I believe your visit to China this time will further deepen our friendship, promote our practical cooperation and elevate the strategic and cooperative relationship between our two countries to a new height," Hu said.
Aquino is to meet Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday and visit Shanghai on Friday and southern Fujian province on Saturday.
The biggest hurdle in relations has been tensions over rival claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where the Philippines is exploring for oil and gas. Early this year, Manila accused China of harassing its oil survey ship. Beijing charged that recent construction work by Philippine troops on an island claimed by Manila violates the spirit of a preliminary agreement reached last month with other Southeast Asian nations.
Aquino told Hu that the South China Sea should be developed as an area of friendship, peace and cooperation, his spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. He said both sides were "very positive" about a resolution of the dispute.
Beijing's attempts in the last decade to increase its economic and political presence in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, floundered as Aquino's predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was rocked by a series of corruption scandals over allegedly overpriced projects involving Chinese companies.
Aquino said his administration would ensure that Chinese investments are handled openly and in accordance with the law.
"What this simply means is that investors will not anymore have to rely on connections in order to set up shop. The rules will not be circumvented and the law will be followed," Aquino said in his speech. "Most important among our efforts, however, is instilling a culture of transparency and integrity in government: weeding out corruption, and ensuring that businessmen ... are met with a level playing field."
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- Benigno Aquino III