China eyes ?multibillion? investments in Mindanao

He said his trip has given him a complete understanding of Mindanao, and will thus start encouraging the investors to consider Mindanao once he returns to Manila. For a start, they will post a section on Mindanao in the website of the Chinese embassy.

Li, however, noted the need to prioritize which of the many opportunities China will embark on.

He said joint efforts have to be done to bring more Chinese tourists to Mindanao. He invited Mindanao's tourism industry to promote in China. He said they are looking at the Chinese tourists who will escape winter in China during the months of November to March every year.

Roberto Teo, head of Davao City's investment office, said that even if only one percent of China's 32 million tourists would come to Mindanao is already be enough. Teo gave a Powerpoint presentation on Davao City dubbed in Chinese.

From 4,503 Chinese visitors to Mindanao in 2001, the number went down to 2,952 in 2005, according to data from the Mindanao Economic Development Council.

Li stressed the need to improve tourism infrastructure to further Mindanao's tourism capacity. He encouraged a meeting between local air transportation officials and their Chinese counterparts to discuss the opening of direct flights between Chinese cities and Davao.

He also cited the possibility of Mindanao providing English language training for Chinese personnel in preparation for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  

"Agriculture is also an area where there is so much to improve in cooperation," Li said.

He said that with the increasing demand for coconut products in China, he is looking at encouraging Chinese businessmen to invest in planting, growing, and processing of coconuts in Mindanao. Coconut products, one of Mindanao's top exports according to MEDCo in 2005, are not among the Philippines’ top exports to China.

Li also cited the cooperation between China and the Philippines in the development of hybrid rice and corn. He said they are also looking at cooperation in deep water or marine agriculture and processing.

Li said five to eight Chinese mining firms are pouring a total of $3 billion in Mindanao in the next five years. The estimate, he said, included the $1 billion nickel mining in Nonoc, Surigao del Norte, expected to get the go signal by the end of the year. Mindanao reportedly has $215 billion worth of potential mineral reserves.

Li, however, told reporters he will not encourage mining firms to invest in Mindanao at the expense of the environment.

Li also said there is a huge potential for cooperation in infrastructure investment in Mindanao. He said many Chinese investors would be interested about the proposed light rail project in Davao and the 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Sultan Kudarat.

Romeo Serra, Mindanao Business Council (MinBC) chair, briefed Li that there are still no serious takers on the power plant project. Serra cited a report that Mindanao would experience power shortage starting in 2008 because of the increasing energy demand, that is why the plant is an important investment need for Mindanao.

Serra also asked Li to encourage investment in the poor provinces of Sulu and Tawi-tawi, which largely produce carageenan seaweeds. China is reportedly the biggest  buyer of Philippine carageenan.              

Li said that they could see the closer ties between China and Mindanao. It is only a matter of time, he said, that they can put up a consulate in Mindanao. Li also pledged attendance of Chinese delegations to business conferences in Mindanao this year. 

According to data from MEDCo, Mindanao has a trade surplus with China. It exported at least $140 million and imported $25 million worth of commodities based on the top 10 commodities traded as of 2005. As of  March this year , China is Mindanao's fourth largest export market.