The Philippines is set to sign 10 to 14 bilateral agreements with China during the state visit of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to Beijing from Jan. 3 to 5, 2023, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.
In a Palace press briefing, DFA Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Nathaniel Imperial said these agreements represent cooperation in a broad range of areas which include trade and investments, agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, development cooperation, people-to-people ties and maritime security cooperation.
“There’s a very strong expectation that there’s great interest from Chinese investors in the Philippine economy, especially in Philippine agriculture and renewable energy and nickel processing,” he said.
China imports 70 percent of its nickel ore and concentrates requirements from the Philippines.
Imperial said the Philippines and China are expected to finalize an agreement on durian exportation.
The two countries are also going to sign an agreement establishing direct communication between their respective foreign ministries to avoid miscalculation and miscommunication in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Other deals that are expected to be signed include a memorandum of understanding on digital cooperation; a framework agreement for the three priority bridges crossing Pasig-Marikina River and Manggahan Floodway Bridges Construction Project; an agreement on tourism cooperation; and the renewal of the agreement on the Philippines’ participation on the Belt and Road initiative of China.
Imperial likewise said the Philippines is also looking at possible grants from China amounting to 1.5 billion renminbi (RMB).
Imperial said the President’s state visit to China will be of “great significance” because it will be Marcos’ first bilateral visit to a non-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) country since assuming the Presidency in July.
He said it will also be the second face-to-face meeting between Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping in less than two months.
Marcos and Xi first met in a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 29th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand last month.
“With both leaders receiving a fresh mandate in recent elections, there is an expectation that the state visit will set the tone of bilateral relations between the two countries in the next five to six years,” Imperial said.
He said the state visit is also set to reaffirm the “cordial and neighborly” relations between Manila and Beijing as well as “ensure continuity in many facets of the bilateral relationship and chart new areas of engagement.
Likewise, he said it is also expected to build on the growing trade and investment ties between the two economies as well as address security issues of mutual concern.
Marcos’ official activities, which will begin on Jan. 4, include three important meetings with Chinese leaders namely Li Zhanshu, chairperson of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress; Li Keqiang, Chinese Premier, and Xi.
Xi will host a dinner banquet for the President, the First Lady and Cabinet officials after their meeting.
Imperial said a “sizeable” business delegation will be joining the state visit.
Business meetings will be held on Jan. 4 and 5 and a number of business deals are scheduled to be signed and finalized during the trip.
China is the Philippines’ largest trading partner, largest source of imports and second largest export destination.
Marcos will be joined by First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, Information and Communications Technology Secretary Ivan John Uy and other members of the Cabinet.
Following concerns over reports of China’s new construction and reclamation activities in the disputed South China Sea, Imperial assured that Marcos will raise the issue before Xi and other Chinese leaders.
“In his meetings with the Chinese leaders including President Xi, the President will discuss the full range of our bilateral relations, both the positive aspects of it and the sensitive aspects of our relations, which includes the issue of the WPS and China’s activities in the area,” he said.
He said Marcos wants a peaceful and stable situation in the West Philippine Sea and will continue to uphold the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights during his meeting with Chinese leaders
“The President has said that the maritime issues do not define the totality of our bilateral relations with China but nevertheless he acknowledges the importance of this issue to our interest and to the Filipino people. We expect that this issue will be discussed in the President’s meetings with Chinese leaders,” he added.
Imperial likewise said Marcos may also continue his discussions with Xi on oil and gas cooperation which was briefly discussed during their first meeting in Bangkok.
China, the Philippines and several other littoral states have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
In a 2016 arbitral ruling, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Beijing’s nine-dash line, a demarcation that covers almost 80 percent of the South China Sea, is illegal. China has repeatedly ignored the verdict.
To ensure the health and safety of the President and his delegation during his China trip, Imperial said China is taking every precaution to ensure that the delegation is not infected and does not bring back to the Philippines the new variants of Covid-19.
“Ang ating ugnayang panlabas sa China ay napakaimportante (Our foreign relations with China are very important) and we have received assurances from our Chinese host that all arrangements are being made to ensure the safety of the President and the delegation during the visit,” he said.
He said China has agreed to provide a “bubble arrangement” for the Philippine delegation to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus.
“May mga pagbisita talaga na hindi natin puwedeng i-postpone (There are just some visits that we cannot postpone),” he added.
No meeting with Filipino community
Imperial said the President will skip his meeting with the Filipino community in Beijing due to rising Covid-19 infections in the East Asian country.
“There will be no meeting between the President and the Filipino community, unfortunately, because of the situation there. But you know, it’s too bad, but we have to follow the Covid protocols there in China so there cannot be any big gatherings which is usually what the President does when he goes overseas,” he said. (PNA)