BEIJING – Philippine president Benigno S. Aquino III will visit China at the end of this month amid rising tensions over the South China Sea.
Aquino will pay a state visit to China from Aug 30 to Sept 3, according to an announcement on Thursday by Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.
Issues on the agenda include measures to boost trade, tourism, education and cultural ties.
“The President will be holding his first summit meeting with President Hu Jintao, which is expected to raise the level of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship to its highest level,” said Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez.
He said Aquino’s visit aims to strengthen the more than three decades friendship and mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.
Hernandez said Aquino’s visit is expected to promote a people-centered partnership that will push for more trade, investment, media, culture, education and tourism exchanges between both sides.
The visit will also showcase the Philippines as an attractive and profitable business destination.
Other key topics that are expected to be discussed include enhancing the Joint Action Plan on Strategic Cooperation that was 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 Aquino to explore opportunities for trade, tourism and enhancing reciprocal investment, Hernandez said.
The Philippines and China will organize business forums in Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen for this purpose.
Bilateral relations between the two countries were strained this year over disputes in the South China Sea Islands and surrounding waters, where China has insisted indisputable sovereignty.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam lay claim to some islands and reefs in the area.
The Philippines has claimed Chinese forces have repeatedly “intruded” into Manila-claimed areas in the sea since February.
In a televised address in July, Aquino said the Philippines was ready to defend its territorial claims in the South China Sea with beefed-up military forces.
Analysts said Aquino’s visit is part of ongoing diplomatic efforts related to the South China Sea dispute, and that all relevant parties are “probing” each other’s bottom line.
“They are looking for a way to maximize their interests,” said Zhang Shengjun, deputy dean of the Institute of Political Science and International Studies at Beijing Normal University, “and not determined to totally confront China over the territorial dispute”.
During Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s visit to China earlier in July, he said his country doesn’t want the disputes to hurt relations with China and the South China Sea dispute is “not the sum total of the Philippines’ relations with China”.
Xinhua and AFP contributed to this story.