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Jul 2, 6:01 AM EDT

China calls for boosting economic ties with Manila

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- China's ambassador to the Philippines says economic ties between the two countries are at disappointing levels and both must work to advance their common prosperity.

Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and Vietnam are embroiled in territorial rows with China over the South China Sea, where China claims most of the waterway that is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Relations between China and Japan have also been strained by disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Ambassador Zhao Jianhua did not refer to the territorial dispute but called the Philippines' share of the Chinese investment pie "too disappointing," with Philippine companies investing more in China than the other way around.

He told a business audience that the Philippines gets only 1.4 percent of China's outbound direct investment to 10 Southeast Asian countries, with Singapore receiving about 46 percent.

"It is imperative and essential that the two countries focus on things that can unite us, focus on things that can promote common prosperity," he said in a speech Tuesday evening before the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

There was no Philippine government reaction to the speech.

Zhao also said 426,000 Chinese tourists visited the country last year, a 70 percent increase from a year earlier "despite the difficulties we're having." But he compared that with 4 million Chinese that tourists go to Malaysia yearly and 3 million to Thailand.

If the country can attract 1 or 2 million Chinese tourists, it will be a huge boost to the local tourism industry, he said.

Mainland China is the Philippines' third largest trading partner, with two-way trade at $14.62 billion last year. But the diplomat said if Hong Kong and Macau are included, China would be the Philippines' top trading partner with total trade at $38 billion last year.

"You are importing more from China than you are exporting to China so we need to do something about it," he said.

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