OCTOBER 25, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo will fly to China on Friday for a five-day business and "a bit of leisure" trip to secure more investments, particularly in infrastructure.

Earlier, Chinese officials said they would like the North Rail project to be completed before China invests in the South Rail project.

Malacañang said the President would hold business meetings, interact with Filipino communities and attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-China summit in Nanjing on Oct. 30-31.

Mrs. Arroyo is set to have bilateral talks with the leaders of Malaysia and Laos on the side of the summit.

Her first stop will be Xiamen, where she is expected to visit an SM mall owned by tycoon Henry Sy, and another one in Nanchang the next day, Oct. 28.

On Oct. 29, Mrs. Arroyo is set to have a river ride in Guilin, a place famous in China for its natural scenery.

Sources said the President might have a brief vacation in Hong Kong with some members of her family before going home.

Other activities of Mrs. Arroyo include a wreath-laying ceremony at the Rizal monument in Jinjiang City in Fujian province.

The President said she was grateful to China for funding the North Rail project, which she said was already proceeding smoothly.

"We look forward to the day when China substantially raises (not only the) level of trade, which is now very high but also the level of investments in the Philippines," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she would like Philippine-China ties to improve,not only in terms of trade and official development assistance, but also on important matters like defense and security relationship.

A joint statement on the two countries’ future relationship covering political security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation would be signed, she added.

The President said she was looking forward to her visit to China and expressed hopes to chart the future of Philippine-China relationship in terms of political, economic, defense and security.

She would like the Chinese to have more presence in the Philippines through investments in mining, agriculture, fishery and housing projects, she added.

China is now the Philippines’ third biggest trading partner and a big market for the country’s electronics products.

Meanwhile, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said yesterday Asean member-states share Mrs. Arroyo’s sentiments that Thailand would be able to return to democracy within a year as Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont had promised in talks at Malacañang during his five-hour visit on Monday.

"The President thinks the roadmap to democracy (of Thailand) is doable and feasible," he said.

Bunye said strengthening democracy in Southeast Asia has always been Asean’s thrust.

"This roadmap Prime Minister Surayud presented to the President during their bilateral meeting is definitely most welcome," he said.

During the official dinner at Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo lauded Chulanont for his "roadmap to constitutional democracy" that aims to steer Thailand back to civilian rule.

Mrs. Arroyo told Surayud that Asean "wishes you all the best as you undertake the task of advancing the cause of democracy and peace to nourish the indomitable spirit of Thailand."

"And we’d like to congratulate you as you very clearly presented your roadmap to constitutional democracy which you hope to complete within a year’s time," she said.

"We thank you very much for your very strong commitment and we hope that you will have every success."

Mrs. Arroyo said more than 7,000 Filipinos are working and living in Thailand, while almost 1,200 Thais stay in the Philippines to work, study or "simply to enjoy Filipino hospitality."

As chair of Asean, the Philippines has gained support from its neighboring nations, specifically Thailand, "in promoting the interest of collective peace, stability and progress" within the region, she added. - With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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