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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                      19  August 2011

Aquino visits China in midst of sea dispute

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President Benigno Aquino 3rd will hold his first state visit to China from August 30 to September 3 to “strengthen the over three decades of friendship and mutually beneficial relations” between Manila and Beijing, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd told lawmakers during a budget presentation at the House of Representatives that President Aquino would renegotiate, among other things, the suspended North Luzon Railways (NorthRail) project during the state visit.

“The President will be holding his first summit meeting with [Chinese] President Hu Jintao that is expected to raise the level of Philippines-China bilateral relations to its highest level,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement.

“The visit hopes to promote a people-centered partnership that will push for more trade, investment, media, culture, education and tourism exchanges between both sides,” he added.

According to the spokesman, the four-day visit would showcase the Philippines “as an attractive and profitable business destination.”

Expected highlights of the visit include the enhancement of the Joint Action Plan on Strategic Cooperation, signed in October 2009, and the signing of the Philippines-China Five-Year Development Program for Trade and Economic Cooperation.

“A large Philippine business delegation will accompany the President to look into enhancing reciprocal investment, trade and tourism opportunities,” Hernandez said.

The statement, however, did not mention whether the President and Hu would discuss the burgeoning political tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), particularly the issue of sovereignty over the reportedly resource-rich Spratly Islands.

Manila and Beijing spent the last few months exchanging barbs and accusations regarding China’s increasing military activities in the region.

The Spratlys are being claimed in whole by China and in part by the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The Philippines has proposed that the issue be brought before the United Nations-backed International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (ITLOS), but China refused and instead pushed for bilateral negotiations with other claimant-countries.

When asked about the territorial spat, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda also on Thursday said that the two countries had close ties in many areas despite the dispute.

“We have several levels of friendship with China: economic, trade, cultural . . . this (visit) will be to foster those relations,” he told reporters.

The 80-kilometer NorthRail project, which will connect Caloocan City (Metro Manila) to Angeles City in Pampanga province, was put on hold in March because of delays and alleged overpricing.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

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It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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