What to expect in the high-level China-led Boao economic forum in Manila this week

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Photo courtesy of Boao Forum for Asia website

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — Against the backdrop of warming ties between the Philippines and China, over 300 top Chinese business leaders will fly to Manila to attend the Boao Economic Forum for Asia Conference this upcoming week.

The newly-elected President of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FFCCCII), Henry Lim Bon Liong, confirmed to CNN Philippines that most of the Chinese investors participating are involved in agriculture, tourism, infrastructure and labor sectors.

“I think right now the Philippines and China relationship has never been so close than before. We would like to do our best to impress the 300 Chinese businessmen coming in next week,” said Lim in a phone interview from Shanghai, China.

The FFCCCII-sponsored forum, with the theme "Concerted Action For Common Development In The New Era,” will be held at the Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila in Taguig City on Monday and Tuesday.

This is also the first time that the forum will be held in the Philippines, and President Rodrigo Duterte himself will deliver the keynote speech at the opening ceremony Monday early evening.

The chief executive will then fly to Beijing, China to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation along with dozens of heads of state from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

Other speakers at the Boao economic forum would include House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Vice Chairman Zhou Xiaochuan and Secretary General Li Baodong, among other high-ranking officials.

What’s in it for Filipinos?

Lim said investment deals between Filipino and Chinese business leaders, especially on job-creating infrastructure projects, are expected to be made during the two-day forum.

“Once these are realized, if the infrastructure is there, the economic benefits are flowing because of these (infrastructure projects) and then poverty will be alleviated because of that,” added Lim.

He also said that Chinese-origin multinational internet conglomerates like Alibaba and Tencent have been on talks with some Filipino big names.

“I think Tencent has some agreement with the Ayalas and all of these and I think there will be more that will be coming in especially tourism,” recounted Lim, who is also the chief executive officer of Sterling Paper Group of Companies.

The taipan himself said he is currently building a resort hotel in Mactan, Cebu to accommodate the influx of rich Chinese coming into the Philippine islands.

“With great beaches and all of these things I think we can overtake Thailand. How can you not beat the other countries when you have three or four of the best beaches in the world?” said Lim.

He added the deals will open more opportunities for Filipinos to be employed as caregivers and workers in retirement homes in China, where population aging is more acute based on research studies.

What’s in it for China?

The Filipino-Chinese businessman said the forum is really for the benefit countries joining in like the Philippines more than China itself.

He further stressed that it is high-time for the forum to be held in Manila since tangible benefits of Chinese investments and loans have not been so much in the Philippines for the past years.

Critics have been saying that that China's loans to poorer nations came with strings attached and could build up staggering debt.

“If you're going to ask a lot of countries, even from Europe or Eastern Europe and even from African countries, there's really no debt trap, I mean there's no strings attached,” responded Lim.

The BFA also aims to build consensus on further cooperation regarding the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), which is China’s ambitious effort to improve regional cooperation and connectivity on a trans-continental scale.

The World Bank website said the BRI aims to strengthen infrastructure, trade, and investment links between China and some 65 other countries that account collectively for over 30 percent of global economy, 62 percent of population, and 75 percent of known energy reserves.

The BRI consists primarily of the Silk Road Economic Belt, linking China to Central and South Asia and onward to Europe, and the New Maritime Silk Road, linking China to the nations of South East Asia, the Gulf Countries, North Africa, and on to Europe.

“I don't think there's any other country that can really follow China's way of trying to do all these things, not even economic powers like America or Japan,” said Lim.

Why is it called ‘Boao’?

The forum is named after Boao town in the eastern coast China’s Hainan province facing the South China Sea, where most of the islands are being disputed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Since the BFA was formally inaugurated on February 27, 2001, the town serves as the permanent site of the BFA Headquarters.

According to its website, BFA is a “nongovernmental and non-profit international organization with a fixed conference date and a fixed domicile.”

Proposed in 1998 by former President Fidel Ramos, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, the BFA was created to “promote and deepen the economic exchange, coordination, and cooperation within Asia and between Asia and the world.”

The BFA, often compared to the World Economic Forum's own annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, has become a high-end platform for dialogs among leaders of national governments, business circles, and academicians about the important issues in Asia and even the whole world.

“This is equally important although it's not as popular as the Davos economic forum, but I think it's going to attract a lot of countries to join also,” said Lim.

Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon of South Korea currently chairs the BFA, with Arroyo sitting as board member. Arroyo was also the one who also invited the BFA board to hold the forum in the Philippines.