The Philippine flag waves in the wind next to the ASEAN and the World Economic Forum's flags as the World Economic Forum on East Asia kicks off in Makati City on Wednesday. Photo by Jonathan Cellona for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA - The Philippines will launch a high-profile sell of its surging economy as it welcomes hundreds of business chiefs and government leaders for Asia's edition of the World Economic Forum.
After decades of lagging behind many of its neighbors, the Southeast Asian nation has in recent years won investment-grade ratings and recorded stock market highs as its economy has expanded at one of the fastest rates in the region.
President Benigno Aquino, who has earned international plaudits for his economic stewardship and a bruising anti-corruption campaign, is now intending to use the three-day WEF on East Asia as a form of coming-out party for the Philippines.
"Holding WEF East Asia in our country is a clear recognition of the strong macroeconomic fundamentals in the Philippines, brought about by the many reforms in our society and governance," presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said.
About 600 political and business heavyweights from around Asia and beyond will gather in Manila's increasingly glitzy financial district of Makati for the event, which will focus on sustainable and equitable growth for Asia's dynamic economies.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will also attend what is commonly known as "Asia's Davos", in reference to the WEF's annual global gathering in Switzerland.
WEF Southeast Asia head Sushant Palakurthi Rao endorsed the Philippines' economic credentials, citing policies promoting good governance that he said were an example for the region as well as economic growth bettered in Asia only by China.
"This is the right moment to shine the spotlight on a country which has turned itself around remarkably after years of unfulfilled promise," Rao wrote in a WEF blog.
After Wednesday's social events to open the forum, the first official session on Thursday morning will focus on the hosts and is entitled: "Philippines: The Next Asian Miracle".
Flaws in Philippine growth model
Nevertheless, economists say the Philippines' growth model still has many flaws, with the elite soaking up much of the country's new wealth while roughly a quarter of the nation's 100 million people continue to live in deep poverty.
Within a few kilometers (miles) of the five-star hotel that is hosting the WEF event, brutal slums are home to hundreds of thousands of desperate people who have largely missed the country's economic boom.
Achieving more inclusive economic growth in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia is one of the key themes of this year's WEF talks.
Another is the goal of economic integration by next year for the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Security is tight around the Makati Shangri-la Hotel, where the World Economic Forum on East Asia is being held. Photo by Jonathan Cellona for ABS-CBNnews.com
Security concerns shadow talks
A high-profile session on Friday will look at how security issues can affect the region's economies, a timely topic given the growing tensions over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
China's increasingly assertive efforts to stake its claim to nearly all of the South China Sea have been one of the most dominant issues in Asia in recent years.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, also claim parts of the sea.
The Philippines has accused China of being a diplomatic and security bully in its efforts to control more territory, and called on the United Nations to declare that the Chinese claims to most of the sea are invalid.
In Vietnam, two Chinese nationals died this month amid riots triggered by China's decision to send a deep-water oil drilling rig into a part of the sea claimed by both countries.
The head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, will be one of the panel members for the security session.
Rao said China would not be officially represented at the WEF event, although he insisted the absence had nothing to do its row with the Philippines and this week's gathering was not intended to focus heavily on the maritime disputes.
"We'll look at the other dimensions of the relationships of these countries," he said.
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