, December 12, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo assured the Chinese government here yesterday that it could start "the ball rolling" and proceed with the construction of the Northrail project.

Mrs. Arroyo gave the assurance to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a meeting ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), the first East Asia and other summits here where both leaders are scheduled to participate.

The President allayed the Chinese governmentís worries about the much-delayed Northrail project due to controversies surrounding its approval.

Wen had raised the Chinese governmentís concerns over the delay with Mrs. Arroyo in New York last September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Security Council meeting.

Both leaders agreed that the delay in the Northrail project, though a major concern, would not necessarily affect the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China.

During their 30-minute bilateral meeting here, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo informed Wen of the Philippine governmentís efforts to relocate the informal settlers who will be affected by the project."The President reported also on the progress of the North Rail project where the relocation of the informal settlers has proceeded at a very satisfactory pace," Bunye said.Bunye added Mrs. Arroyo had informed the Chinese leader that about 30 kilometers of the areas have been cleared of squatters.

Mrs. Arroyo told Wen to order the Chinese engineers to "start the ball rolling as far as their Northrail project" is concerned, Bunye said.Bunye said Wen expressed happiness over the development knowing the importance of the project to the transportation and economic situation in the Philippines.Wen likewise thanked Mrs. Arroyo for being consistent in adhering to the one-China policy.The President returned her gratefulness by citing the increase in the number of Chinese tourists coming into the Philippines, reaching 100,000 this year from the usual 30,000.Wen informed Mrs. Arroyo that this was because the Philippines was one of the approved destinations by the Chinese government for its citizens.Mrs. Arroyo invited the Chinese government to invest in the energy sector in the Philippines. Wen replied he would relay the invitation back home.

Mrs. Arroyo called for further cooperation between regional groupings like the Asean and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.The two leaders noted the cultural exchanges and the benefits of the joint seismic exploration in the South China Sea among the Philippines, China and Vietnam.Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo and Wen agreed the joint explorations would contribute to the promotion of peace and stability in the region.The Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, also agreed to conduct joint border patrols in their common sea lanes in the effort to fight sea piracy and terrorism in the region, adopting the proposal by Mrs. Arroyo.

The agreement came as the four countries noted the investment climate in the region had been minimal due to security threats, according to Secretary Jesus Dureza, signing minister for Manila in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) summit here.Dureza said Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudyohono, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi took the proposal of Mrs. Arroyo and gave the go signal for discussions on the details to proceed.

"We are going to move forward in getting the four nations together in conducting probably joint patrols no longer just during military exercises but on a continuous basis so that we can protect the sub-region from transnational crimes and terrorism," Dureza said.Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo took the opportunity to thank the Filipino community here last night in their efforts to boost the countryís economy through their dollar remittances.

She stressed before the Filipino community the purpose of BIMP-EAGA summit to develop areas in the sub-region that had been needing attention.Dureza added tourism and other investments were important targets of the President with the Asian Development Bank, as BIMP-EAGAís economic adviser, tasked to assist in having tourism-assisted projects in the sub-region.Indonesia also proposed that BIMP-EAGA set up an energy cooperation investment program to enable the region to have sufficient fuel reserve at any time and prepare for any eventuality.But for investments to come in, Mrs. Arroyo stressed the need to strengthen security ties with the neighboring countries, particularly those with common borders.This was the reason why the President had proposed the joint border patrol agreement, Dureza pointed out.

Dureza said the Presidentís proposal was welcomed by the three other countries and the details would have to be threshed out by concerned officials.The Philippines will lead the discussions being the chairman of the cluster on Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security (CIQS) matters in Asean."We still have to work out whether the joint patrols can be done bilaterally or jointly among the four countries," Dureza said. He noted the necessity to improve security situation in the area after the Malaysian minister reported that there had not been much development since the last BIMP-EAGA Summit in Bali, Indonesia in 2003."One of the challenges or concerns is of course the threats of security in the sub-region," Dureza said."You cannot bring in investments in the area if the level of confidence in security is not that high," Dureza stressed.In a joint statement, the four leaders noted some of the projects undertaken in the sub-region such as the establishment of air and sea links, improvement of airport and seaport infrastructure and the establishment of the BIMP-EAGA facilitation center in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. The four leaders also agreed to hold another BIMP-EAGA Summit along with the Asean summit, which would be held in the Philippines next year."We have agreed to adopt the BIMP-EAGA Roadmap to Development, which will be implemented for a period of five years (2006-2010)," the four leaders said in a statement.The focus areas of the road map are transportation, infrastructure, information and communication technology, natural resources, tourism and small and medium enterprises.They also acknowledged the participation of the Northern Territory of Australia and China as development partners of BIMP-EAGA."We are encouraged to note Japanís support and involvement in the sub-region," the leaders said.Dureza said they met in Tokyo for an investment forum and that China would later announce its possible assistance to the BIMP-EAGA.The BIMP-EAGA meeting preceded the 11th ASEAN, the first East Asia and other summits here.Asiaís largest economic growth area, BIMP-EAGA, constitutes Brunei Darussalam; the Indonesia provinces of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Irian Jaya; Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territory Labuan in Malaysia; and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines.

With the exception of Brunei, these areas traditionally lagged in economic development when compared to their respective capital regions, despite being rich in natural resources.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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