Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, Beijing’s envoy to Manila, said in a speech to Filipino businessmen on Tuesday that China and the Philippines should work to strengthen weak economic ties, despite tensions arising from territorial disputes over claims to the South China Sea.
“It is imperative and essential that the two countries focus (on) things that can unite us, focus on things that can promote common prosperity for both countries,” Zhao said.
Without broaching the subject of the maritime dispute, Zhao pointed out that the economic relationship between China and the Philippines falls way behind ties between China and other nations in Southeast Asia.
Zhao’s speech reaffirmed Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s view that the South China Sea standoff does not comprise the “totality” of the country’s relationship with China.
The envoy acknowledged that Filipino firms have invested more in China than Chinese companies have in the Philippines, but that Filipino farm exports to China were neglible.
He also noted that Chinese tourism to the Philippines falls short compared to Chinese tourism to Malaysia and Thailand.
Total bilateral trade between the two countries reached $16.39 billion in 2013, making mainland China the Philippines’ third highest trading partner.
However, of the estimated $90 billion invested by Chinese companies in countries overseas in 2013, less than two percent of that reached the Philippines, Zhao said.
“You’ll be surprised that the Philippines is investing more in China than what China is investing in the Philippines,” he stated.
Zhao also noted that there may be a good opportunity for the Philippines to receive investments from China, as the Chinese economy shifts from being “the world’s factory” to one led by domestic consumption.
“There is a good opportunity for the Philippine side to receive some of our good-quality manufacturing investments,” he said.
Investment possibilities include those in the manufacturing industry, and possible even in infrastructure and energy projects, Zhao added.
In the area of tourism, Zhao said that although mainland Chinese tourists visiting the Philippines went up by 70 percent to a little under half a million people in 2013, this was insignificant compared to four million Chinese tourists visiting Malaysia and approximately three million visiting Thailand.
“Can you imagine if you attract one or two million Chinese tourists? That will instantly boost the tourism industry in the Philippines. .But we’re glad that despite the difficulties we’re having, the Chinese tourists are still attracted” to the Philippines,” he noted.