MANILA, Philippines – Despite the sea dispute between Manila and Beijing, around 250 Chinese nationals flew to the Philippines to attend the region’s premier business forum beginning Monday, November 16.
While Manila is hosting the event, Chinese delegates even outnumber the Filipinos at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit.
Doris Magsaysay Ho, chairperson of the APEC Business Advisory Council, said the Chinese make up around 25% of APEC CEO Summit delegates.
Ho said the event, which lasts until Wednesday, November 18, has more than 1,000 delegates.
Filipinos make up only around 15% of delegates at the APEC CEO Summit, described as “the only platform where the business community can engage with the APEC Economic Leaders.”
Alluding to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Ho told reporters, “What this is saying is, politics is definitely separate from trade.”
Like the delegates from China, Chinese President Xi Jinping is also flying to the Philippines on Tuesday, November 17, to attend the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting.
‘This is about trade’
Both the Philippines and China said the dispute should not be raised at the APEC Summit, which is primarily economic. (READ: APEC seating arrangement to allow Aquino, Xi to meet)
Ho told reporters: “We’re so thrilled that President Xi is coming, and we really wanna welcome him, and we’re so happy he’s bringing such a big contingent with him, as well as these people who registered independently.”
“This is about trade,” she said. “It’s about seeing that the Philippines could be interesting for investment, and seeing that we actually trade with China.”
Ho, who heads a group of companies involved in shipping, also downplayed observations that the West Philippine Sea dispute could affect trade as well, given that this is a major sea lane.
Referring to the West Philippine Sea, she said, “I’m in the shipping business, and I haven’t seen anything that’s affecting our sea lanes.”
Data from the Philippine government, as of April, showed that China was the Philippines’ third biggest trading partner.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.