MANILA,  August 13, 2004
President Arroyo has accepted an invitation to visit China in September, her first official visit during her new term, Malacañang said in a statement yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo will seek further cooperation between the Philippines and China in investments, infrastructure, transport, energy and agricultural development.

"The President will witness the signing of several agreements in these critical areas. These agreements were negotiated in implementation of the President’s 10-point agenda," the Palace said, referring to Mrs. Arroyo’s anti-poverty program.

Mrs. Arroyo is also expected to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Her Sept. 2-4 working visit "signifies the increasing and deepening cooperation between the Philippines and China, particularly in the economic, trade and development areas."

Mrs. Arroyo visited China twice during her first three-year term.

Aside from meetings with Chinese leaders, Mrs. Arroyo is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at an international conference of Asian political parties in Beijing on Sept. 3 and 4.

Her participation there "signifies the importance the Philippines gives to the role political parties play in determining and carrying out the will of the people," Malacañang said in its statement.

Mrs. Arroyo will represent the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats ruling party, which she co-chairs with Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., who suggested that she attend the conference.

In a letter to the President, De Venecia also stated the need for Mrs. Arroyo to discuss the lingering territorial dispute over the Spratly islands.

Believed to be sitting on top of huge oil and gas deposits, the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan claim some or all of the Spratlys which, security analysts say, are a potential flashpoint.

De Venecia has suggested a joint exploration of the islands among claimants to avoid clashes.

At Manila’s insistence, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been proposing a code of conduct in the island group to prevent clashes between rival claimants. But China has consistently refused.

Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In the 1980s, Chinese and Vietnamese navy vessels clashed in the Spratlys over a territorial dispute.

In 1995, relations between Manila and Beijing became testy after a Philippine reconnaissance plane spotted Chinese structures built over a reef claimed by Manila, resulting in a naval standoff. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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