US, China, Japan congratulate P-Noy

MANILA, Philippines — Led by President Barack Obama
who called on his mobile phone, the leaders of the world’s three biggest economies—the United States, China and Japan—welcomed President-elect Benigno Aquino III’s rise to power, pledging to help a leader facing daunting challenges, from rebellions and massive poverty to a crippling budget deficit.

Aquino Thursday told reporters that Obama invited him to visit the United States “at the appropriate time,” solidifying a previous invitation extended by US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr., who said the incoming Philippine leader should take two trips to the United States.

Regarded by many as a political lightweight after an unimpressive stint in Congress, Aquino—who has said he prefers to be called “P-Noy” rather than by his initials BSA—is inheriting a nation grappling with poverty and debilitated by decades-long communist and Moro insurgencies, military unrest, corruption, violent crime and political strife.

“It was a very pleasant conversation,” Aquino said of his phone conversation with Obama on Wednesday night, which lasted for about 20 minutes.

“I won’t say we’re very close since it’s my first time to talk to him [but] I believe he was very sincere in his words that he really wants to foster stronger relations with our country.”

Parents are champions

In a statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Philippines’ successful automated elections “exemplified the vitality of the country’s democratic institutions and should be a point of pride for Filipinos everywhere.”

“The Filipino people now look to President-elect Aquino to carry forward the democratic traditions that his parents did so much to champion,” Clinton said, referring to Aquino’s assassinated father, Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and his late mother, ex-President Corazon “Cory” Aquino.

Clinton said the United States had long stood with the Philippines as a trusted ally and friend and pledged to support the efforts of the Filipinos to build a secure and prosperous country.

Aquino said the Visiting Forces Agreement—a thorny issue in RP-US relations—was not discussed in his talk with Obama.

‘Very strong relationship’

“(Obama) said we had a very strong relationship. He said he has a personal close friendship with the Filipino community in America, one of the biggest immigration groups there.”

Aquino said he told Obama of his recent meeting with Ambassador Thomas and that when he said the Philippines expected to work well with the envoy he had chosen to send to Manila, “he (Obama) was very pleased with that.”

“The ambassador really exuded that drive to make our relationship much, much stronger. Hopefully, they will really be our partners in addressing the problems in the country,” Aquino said.

“Job generation is our first priority. He (Thomas) said they could set up meeting with business leaders in different areas of America. So much so that we might not be able to handle it with one trip. He was suggesting two trips in a part time frame,” Aquino said.

‘Model of transparency’

Aquino said the Americans were “very eager” to invest in the country but “they want to be sure that they have a reasonable chance” of making profit, “otherwise it would be a useless venture.”

“What was emphasized was their eagerness to invest in the country subject to conditions,” Aquino said.

In a statement on the phone conversation between Obama and Aquino, the White House said the US leader “described the May 10 elections as a model of transparency and positive testament to the strength and vitality of democracy in the Philippines.”

Obama “noted the deep historic and people-to-people ties between the United States and the Philippines and our strong cooperation on security and economic issues in the Asia Pacific region and globally,” the statement said.

The White House said the two leaders agreed to take the cooperation between the two countries to a new level and to meeting at a “mutually convenient” time.

China, Japan, Australia

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice President Xi Jinping joined other world leaders in congratulating Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Hu said the two countries had maintained frequent exchanges and enhanced mutual trust since the establishment of diplomatic relations 35 years ago.

“Under new historical circumstances, I would like to work with you to carry forward our traditional friendship, expand our mutually beneficial cooperation, advance China-Philippines strategic and cooperative relations to a new level, and make positive contributions to regional peace, stability and development,” Hu said.

Xi said China would be pleased to work with the Aquino administration to carry on the significant progress in China-Philippines relations.

“I would like to work with Your Excellency, proceeding from the fundamental interests of the two peoples, to push forward China-Philippines strategic and cooperative relations in a sound and stable manner, and make joint efforts to promote regional peace, stability and development,” Xi said.

New Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged his country would “do its utmost to cooperate … in efforts toward further stability and progress.”

Alarm at budget deficit

Aquino will take his oath of office on June 30. He has expressed alarm at the ballooning national budget deficit, which he said could surpass $8.7 billion (P400 billion) this year.

Australian Ambassador Rod Smith visited Aquino at Times Street on Thursday and congratulated him on his victory.

Aquino said he looked forward to increasing trade between Australia and the Philippines and also getting inputs from Australia on developing the mining industry without harming the environment.

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