The president-elect of the Philippines is Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the son of the country’s infamous former dictator. He said this week that his nation’s connection to China will increase and even “shift to a higher gear” when he takes office. This was a strong signal that he will intensify the pro-China agenda of the outgoing president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Marcos won the election by a landslide and after the win, he said there were “very substantial” conversations by phone with Xi Jinping, the president of China. They agreed on mutual support for their policies and more comprehensive conversations.
The president-elect also said that China’s president talked about his late father’s part in opening diplomatic relations between China and the Philippines, a former U.S. colony.
Marcos said in a statement, “The way forward is to expand our relationship not only diplomatic, not only trade, but also in culture, even in education, even in knowledge, even in health, to address whatever minor disagreements that we have right now.”
He went further saying that his nation could not allow the conflicts they presently have with China to become “historically important.”
Over the last several years, the two nations have experienced tension over China’s territorial claims and the actions of their coast guard and fishing fleets in the South China Sea. That body of water has at least $3.4 trillion of annual trade passing through its waters.
Marcos will walk a tightrope if he seeks a stronger relationship with Beijing and also attempts to keep a close relationship with America. He relies on the United States as a defense ally and it will be essential to maintain that relationship to keep his military strength.
When Marcos won the election with almost 60% of the votes, China was the first nation to give congratulations. This win was the first to have an outright majority since there was the 1986 revolution that ended his father’s 20-year dictatorship.
China’s President Xi wants the two countries to maintain bilateral cooperation and he thinks Marcos should maintain an independent foreign policy. Xi said, “I hope the Philippines can continue to uphold its independence and autonomy in foreign policy.”
Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, said last week that America would get quickly engaged with the new administration, but he also acknowledged that there were “historical considerations” that would create challenges.
Duterte’s administration was accused of human rights violations by the United States. China, the Philippines’ biggest trading partner, promised the country a large amount of money to help with their war on drugs.
Xi said, “We have effectively managed our differences through dialogue and consultation, actively promoted practical cooperation in various fields and achieved fruitful results in bilateral relations.”
China’s president promised there would be “continuity and stability” given to the Philippines and he promised to continue support and help for things like infrastructure, agriculture, energy, education, pandemic control, and post-Covid recovery.
Marcos, also known as “Bongbong,” won the campaign with Duterte’s daughter, Sara, as his vice president. The relationship the nation has with China has a long history. The younger Marco visited Beining in 1974 when he was just 17-years-old. He was there with his mother, Imelda, and they met Mao Zedong.
The conflict Marcos has with China in the South China Sea is a big concern for both nations. Xi is hoping that they can prevent this tension from becoming any more intense so that the United States does not enter into the fray.
Ngeow Chow Bing, director of the Institute of China Studies at the University of Malaya, believes that when President Xi referred to an “independent foreign policy” for the Philippines, he meant that they should not be “fully aligned with the US in the strategic sense.”
So this new regime is going to have to walk a fine line if Marcos is going to keep both China and the United States happy.