Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte demonstrates how a drug addict sniffs drugs during a speech in Beijing on Wednesday. Photo: AP
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's ongoing visit to China has rekindled enthusiasm for cooperation from entrepreneurs on both sides, observers and business leaders said Wednesday.
Duterte, accompanied by a 400-strong delegation, is scheduled to attend a business forum in Beijing Thursday.
Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and Duterte will attend the opening ceremony of the China-Philippines Economic and Trade Forum, Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.
One Filipino delegate told the Global Times that they are eager to grasp this opportunity after not daring to conduct business with China as Sino-Philippine ties soured during Benigno Aquino III's presidency.
"The Thursday forum, attended by leaders from both sides, will especially make us confident about expanding business in China," said the delegate, who requested anonymity.
Around 450 entrepreneurs from the Philippines and a large delegation of Chinese counterparts will be at the forum, Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez was quoted by Manila-based news website inquirer.net as saying on Tuesday. Registration of Filipino entrepreneurs for Duterte's state visit to China was oversubscribed.
The Philippine government initially planned to invite 100 business delegates, but many more signed up, the anonymous delegate said, adding that over 100 Filipino entrepreneurs, keen to look for cooperation opportunities, came to Beijing by themselves, aside from the 400 accompanying Duterte.
Courtesy, good will
Duterte said Wednesday in Beijing that the South China Sea arbitration case will "take a back seat" during his talks with the Chinese leadership, adding that he would wait for the Chinese side to bring it up rather than do so himself.
Speaking to reporters at his hotel, Duterte described the judgment as a "piece of paper."
"It would not be in keeping with courtesy and goodwill if I am the one to open it," he said. "And you will say, will it take a back seat? Of course, it has to take the back seat."
Duterte arrived in Beijing Tuesday night and visited the Forbidden City and a drug rehabilitation center on Wednesday, a Philippine source told the Global Times.
He also met with Philippine expats in China and Chinese business representatives on Wednesday.
Duterte will begin his meetings and talks with Chinese leaders on Thursday. President Xi Jinping will host a welcome ceremony, hold talks with him and host a welcome banquet. Premier Li Keqiang and Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress, will meet with him separately, Hua said.
Open for business
The Philippine business delegation includes Ramon Ang, president of San Miguel Corp - a conglomerate engaged in beverages, food, oil and mining; President Lance Gokongwei of JG Summit Holdings Inc, whose business focuses on air transportation and banking; Enrique Razon, chairman of gaming company Bloomberry Resorts Corp and global port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc; Hans Sy, son of the Philippines' richest man Henry Sy, who controls SM Investments Corp; and liquor and tobacco magnate Lucio Tan, who also owns Philippine Airlines, Bloomberg reported.
Gokongwei told the Global Times on Wednesday that there are huge opportunities and potential to cooperate between both countries. "Since China, one of the fastest growing countries … and [it] is in our backyard and has made large investments in other countries, the Philippines can also benefit from it," he said.
After maritime disputes between China and the Philippines ramped up from 2012, Chinese businesses halted their investment in the Southeast Asian country, Li Kaisheng, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
Li said economic cooperation is unlikely to falter again after the forum, since Duterte sees China as an appropriate partner to strengthen its real economy with immense investment, adding that he expects more Chinese investment in Manila than Philippine investment in China.
"There could be collaboration in agricultural technology like irrigation, tourism and the exploitation of natural resources," Li said.
China can provide a huge infusion of funds, as well as technological expertise in infrastructure and industrialization in the Philippines, said Xu Liping, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
It is the essential driving force to develop Sino-Philippine bilateral ties, Xu said.
"We are bringing a lot of our business people to China. That's a very clear signal of the direction that we are taking in terms of carrying out our bilateral relations with China now. We can now see by this the importance we are giving to our trade and commercial ties with China," Charles Jose, spokesperson for the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs, was quoted by Rappler as saying on Friday.