MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has appointed two special envoys to China at a time when the Philippines is in the middle of a dispute with Beijing over territories in the West Philippine Sea.
Aquino appointed Domingo Lee, his erstwhile nominee as Philippine ambassador to China, and Cesar Zalamea as special envoys to China with identical six-month terms.
Zalamea’s appointment as special envoy is more specific—as an emissary on investments.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa transmitted their appointment papers to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
Their appointments came even as Aquino said he continued to look for an “able ambassador” to China in the wake of the territorial issues between the two countries.
Lee was Aquino’s original nominee as ambassador to China but was forced to withdraw his nomination after Lee was bypassed three times by the congressional Commission on Appointments.
Lee’s duties and responsibilities as special envoy include the promotion of 2012-2013 as the year of friendly exchanges between the Philippines and China.
Among other duties, he has been tasked with “persuading greater numbers of Chinese tourists to make the Philippines their main destination for leisure and relaxation trips, and pointing out the many tourist attractions and leisure activities that the islands have to offer.”
Lee is expected to closely coordinate with and provide regular feedback on initiatives undertaken by the Philippine ambassador to China and the foreign assistant secretary for Asia and Pacific affairs.
He is also tasked with performing other duties to enhance Philippine-China relations “as may be assigned to him by the President or the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.”
Lee’s appointment comes in the wake of the reported cancellation of tours to the Philippines by Chinese tour operators following the month-long standoff over Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough).
Zalamea, as special envoy on investments, will seek out potential Chinese investors to take part in key infrastructure projects under the public-private-partnership scheme.
He’s tasked with aggressively encouraging more Chinese investors to set up businesses in the Philippines in preferred areas of investment as well as new and emerging areas of growth, such as the auto industry, information and communications technology, tourism infrastructure, mining, high-value agribusiness, shipbuilding, power plants and renewable energy.
Zalamea is also expected to coordinate with the Philippine ambassador to China and the Department of Foreign Affairs offices on international economic relations and on Asia and Pacific affairs.