PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be leading the Philippine delegation to the first Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) in Manila on Monday and Tuesday at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bonifacio Global City.

The forum, which aims to build further cooperation among leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in relation to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is scheduled to take place in Manila on Monday and Tuesday, according to the program’s agenda posted on the official website of the BFA.

The BFA said it was its first conference in Manila. “The Manila Conference comes at a time after the BFA Annual Conference 2019 and prior to the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. The conference is expected to build consensus on further cooperation in respect of the Belt and Road initiative and regional interconnectivity. It will also send a positive message on the prospect of world economy and intellectually supporting Asian countries to address common risks and challenges,” it said.

The BFA also said that its decision to hold a conference in Manila came at the invitation of Ms. Arroyo.

“The Philippines is one of the initial countries of BFA, and has also served as the coordinator of China-ASEAN relations since last year. Against the backdrop of the progressing China-Philippines relations from recovery, consolidation and improvement, as well as the upgrading of China-ASEAN relations, the forum’s decision to hold its conference in Manila at the invitation of H.E. Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Speaker the House of Representatives of the Philippines, reflects its support of and confidence in the China-Philippines relations and East Asian cooperation,” it said.

The forum seeks “to build a new communication and cooperation platform for government, business and academic leaders between China and the Philippines as well as China and ASEAN.”

The private sector will be focused on parts of the conference dedicated to innovation, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) Chairman George T. Barcelon said.

“This is the first time it will be held here and I think this will be a subset of what was discussed there,” Mr. Barcelon told BusinessWorld via telephone on Sunday.

Mr. Barcelon was referring to the BFA Annual Conference 2019 held on March 26-29 in Hainan, China, which he attended with Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Ang main focus (of the) forum is to share ideas. What we heard, they talked about innovation, they talked about (the period) before Industrial Revolution and they talked about the China market opening to free their service sector,” he said.

“They talked about the financial shift in new technology to make the availment of finance easy for the MSME (Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise),” he added.

The PCCI is also among the supporting partners of the BFA and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) for the two-day forum in Manila along with Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. and the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines.

Mr. Barcelon said bringing the BFA to Manila will allow Chinese investors to better gauge the business environment in the Philippines.

“Our local counterparts can have the opportunity to listen and at the same time, you have about 300 foreign guests coming from all parts of China. This allows them to see for themselves the conditions here in the Philippines,” he said.

Mr. Barcelon said the chamber hopes to find investors in the manufacturing sector to increase employment opportunities for Filipinos.

“We hope we can also attract people in the manufacturing sector; they don’t necessarily have to be very big, as a matter of fact, (we find it more important for small and medium-sized business to explore investing here,” he said.

“We see possible investments that could create more job opportunities for the country.”

When asked about the territorial dispute in the West Philippines Sea, Mr. Barcelon said he sees the two countries remaining open to bilateral discussions.

“I’m sure in this fora, maybe it will not be concentrated too much on this topic, but it will be talked about from the point of view that, yes we have sovereign rights, but our gates our open for bilateral discussion at the same time,” Mr. Barcelon said.

“I think the focus there, even with the pronouncement of the administration, is that the issue will focus more on economics and trade. Maybe they will touch on that but the sentiment on both sides is that there’s much more to be gained by being open on these trade and commerce.”

Trade and Industry committee chairman George T. Siy of the FFCCCII said hosting the BFA for the first time will allow the government to promote the Philippines as business partner.

“Its held in the Philippines for the first time as a promotion of the potential business relationship between the Philippines and China because they are sending more than 200 business people here from various fields, including manufacturing, tourism and technology,” he told BusinessWorld in a separate phone interview Sunday.

“They will be trying to build relations with business people here and looking at the business environment. On our end liligawan naman natin na maglagay ng (we will try to attract) investments.”

Mr. Duterte is scheduled to attend the forum and deliver a keynote speech on the first day of the conference while Ms. Arroyo will deliver her keynote speech on Tuesday.

Other leaders who are expected to attend the event are former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand Surakiart Sathirathai, BFA Vice-Chairman Zhou Xiaochuan, and BFA Secretary-General Li Baodong.

“About 500 entrepreneurs from China, Thailand, the Philippines and other ASEAN states as well as western countries will attend the conference,” the BFA also said.

The BFA said further that the conference “will focus on the theme of ‘Concerted Action for Common Development in the New Era,’ aligned with and built on BFA’s theme ‘Shared Future, Concerted Action, Common Development.’ New era call on new actions. Faced with a world of fundamental changes, Asian countries need to shoulder common responsibilities and take concerted action to address challenges in the new era.” — Arjay L. Balinbin and Charmaine A. Tadalan