APRIL 21 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo left for a shortened visit to China yesterday to attend a high-powered business forum and conclude some $2 billion worth of Chinese investment deals.

Among those expected at the Boao Forum, the Asian counterpart of the Davos economic forum, are Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and Bangladeshi Nobel peace laureate Muhammad Yunus.

The President’s trip, originally scheduled for five days, was cut short to 12 hours after First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo underwent open-heart surgery on April 9.

The First Gentleman is expected to be released from St. Luke’s Medical Center today, upon Mrs. Arroyo’s return from China.

Apart from signing and approving investment agreements, President Arroyo is scheduled to take part in the weekend Boao Forum for Asia meeting of top government officials and business leaders, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

The chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, Wu Bangguo would be the forum’s keynote speaker.

Bunye said the President would also be meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and with Wu on the sidelines of the Boao Forum.

Former President Fidel Ramos and South Korea’s SK Group chairman Chey Tae Won would also be delivering their own opening remarks today.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo "brings to the forum her expertise and strong grasp of regional and geopolitical matters in her capacity as president and as chair of ASEAN." ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Mrs. Arroyo’s visit to China in 2004 yielded $1.2 billion in combined investment commitments and soft loans.

The Boao Forum is considered an important event in Asia, the regional counterpart of Europe’s World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland.

Ramos has been re-elected to another three-year term as chairman of the Boao Forum, a post he has held for the past five years.

Ramos said that he was happy that Mrs. Arroyo decided to go to China despite her husband’s condition.

"I’m happy she’s coming here. Very important decisions are expected to come out of this forum considering that China is a major driver of economic growth in Asia, having replaced Japan," Ramos said.

Ramos suggested that the President push through with her trips to the four Chinese provinces after the May elections. Mrs. Arroyo was originally scheduled to visit Chengdu, Chongqing, Shanghai and Shenzen after the Boao Forum.

"Once again, it will be to the best interest of the country if she will push through with it," he said.

Bunye said that the suggestion of the former president "is well taken but it will all depend on the subsequent schedules of the President."

"Definitely meetings with them at some future date would be a very good idea," he said.- with AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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