Philippine President Benigno Aquino arrived in Beijing on Tuesday on a mission to secure $60 billion in economic deals, amid spats between the two sides over the South China Sea issue.
Aquino, in his first state visit to China, will meet with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and business representatives during his five-day tour, which will also take him to Shanghai and Xiamen.
Most of the president's 300-strong delegation are business leaders.
"The visit hopes to push for more trade, investment. It will also showcase the Philippines as an attractive and profitable business destination," Philippine Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Cristina Ortega told reporters on Tuesday.
Philippine media said Aquino aims to seal a $60 billion, five-year economic development plan with China. Philippine officials are also seeking Chinese investment in infrastructure projects, such as railways, airports and schools.
The AP commented that Aquino is in need of funds to increase spending on social services to reduce poverty, his main election promise.
Currently, China stands as the third largest trade partner to the Philippines behind the US and Japan, and total trade between the two countries last year reached $10.31 billion.
However, citing Aquino's aides, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the president will raise the South China Sea issue with Chinese officials, including Hu, during the visit.
The two nations have been involved in spats over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippine navy held a joint military exercise with the US in June in the region.
China claims indisputable sovereignty over the Xisha, Nansha Islands and adjacent islands in the South China Sea, but the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam have made similar claims.
Relations between the two sides were also hit by last year's failed rescue of Hong Kong hostages in Manila and China's execution of three Filipinos convicted of drug smuggling in March.
Du Jifeng, an expert on Asia-Pacific issues from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that recent tensions between the two sides have overshadowed their economic cooperation, and one of Aquino's goals is to disperse these clouds.
"Improved trade ties with China will definitely benefit the Aquino administration, but concession on territorial issues is highly unlikely during the visit," Du said.
"The South China Sea issue cannot be solved overnight, and fluctuation in Sino-Philippine ties will likely continue," Lin Limin, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.
"Downplaying the differences and seeking peaceful cooperation would benefit the two sides," Lin added.
Earlier this month, a decommissioned US Coast Guard cutter was formally unveiled in Manila, and Aquino said the cutter would upgrade the country's capability to patrol its exclusive economic zone and energy exploration areas in the South China Sea.
He also pledged further military upgrades to defend the country's interests.
However, before the China visit, Aquino told reporters that Sino-Philippine relations should not be sabotaged by the South China Sea issue.
"We want to strengthen bilateral relations, trying to remove any situation that will provoke conflicts between the two countries," Aquino said.
Regarding media reports that the timing of Aquino's visit may not be good, the Manila Bulletin commented, "For now, for the president to back out of a trip that has been months in the planning would be a slap in the face of his hosts. Since when has politics been more important than plain and simple courtesy?"
In a welcome letter, Chinese ambassador Liu Jianchao said in Manila that Aquino's visit to China will be another milestone in Sino-Philippine relations.
"I've said before that while the Philippine economy is taking off, China is ready to add strength to its wings. I hope that your visit will be another magic feather making the wings more powerful," Liu said.
Separately, Aquino will travel to Hongjian village in Xiamen, Fujian Province for the last leg of the visit.
Aquino's mother and former president, Corazon C. Aquino, planted an araucaria tree in 1988 during her trip to mark her ancestral roots in the village.
"I am not only the president of the Philippines, but also the daughter of Hongjian," Corazon said at the time.
Aquino will also meet with 3,000 Filipinos residing in China and offer a speech showing that "the Philippines have changed under a better leadership."