Marcos presidency a boon for China, awkward for US | Inquirer News

Marcos presidency a boon for China, awkward for US

Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

FIRST DAY AT WORK President-apparent Ferdinand Marcos Jr. jubilates with supporters who vowed to stay at his Mandaluyong City headquarters until he is proclaimed. —AFP

The decisive victory of former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the presidential election last Monday is expected to reshape the country’s relations with China and the United States as he seeks closer ties with Beijing without ruining an alliance with Washington as what outgoing President Duterte did.

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the country’s former dictator, has long-standing ties with China and is seeking a new deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the contested waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).


Both the United States and China congratulated the Philippines for the successful conduct of the national and local elections last Monday.


The US Department of State on Wednesday said it would renew its “special partnership” with the Philippines and work with the next administration on “key human rights and regional priorities” as it acknowledged that last Monday’s conduct of Philippine elections was in accordance with international standards.

“We’re monitoring the election results… we look forward to working with the president-elect, once that person is officially named, to strengthen the enduring alliance between the United States and the Philippines,” US state department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

No changes

He said the United States does not see any changes in its relations with the Philippines, stressing that “it’s an enduring alliance that is rooted in a long and deeply interwoven history that shares democratic values and interests and strong people-to-people ties between our countries as friends, as partners, as allies.”

The Chinese government also congratulated the “leading candidates” and the country over the “smooth” conduct of elections.

“We hope and believe that various political forces in the Philippines will continue to work in solidarity for national renewal and development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a briefing in Beijing.

“China and the Philippines, facing each other across the waters, enjoy a long-standing traditional friendship. We are good partners for mutually beneficial cooperation and fellow travelers on the road to common development,” he said.


Zhao said he hoped Beijing and Manila would be able to continue the “flourishing relationship” established by Xi and Mr. Duterte.

“China will continue to work together with the Philippines to stay committed to good-neighborliness and friendship, focus on post-COVID growth, expand win-win cooperation, and bring more tangible benefits to both peoples,” he added.

Geopolitical rivalry

The Philippines is a fulcrum of the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China, with its maritime territory encompassing part of the South China Sea.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) ruled in favor of the Philippines over China’s claim.

But in interviews during the election campaign, Marcos Jr. said the ruling was “not effective” because China did not recognize it and that he would seek a bilateral agreement with China to resolve their differences.

“If you let the US come in, you make China your enemy,” he told dzRH radio. “I think we can come to an agreement (with China). As a matter of fact, people from the Chinese Embassy are my friends. We have been talking about that.”


Rommel Banlaoi, a Manila-based security expert, said Marcos Jr. wanted friendlier ties with China but not at the expense of ceding territory.

“He’s open to direct consultations and bilateral negotiations with China to settle their differences,” he said. “He is willing to explore areas of pragmatic cooperation with China, including the development of natural gas and oil in the West Philippine Sea.”

University of the Philippines political science professor Aries Arugay said the United States is expected to be pragmatic in dealing with Marcos Jr., who is likely to continue his predecessor’s embrace of China.

He said the United States is now more prepared to deal with Marcos Jr., unlike with Mr. Duterte, whose term ends on June 30.

The Philippines and the United States had weathered Mr. Duterte’s temper flares and his rants against the decades-old alliance during his six-year term, including a move that almost abrogated the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a pact that governs the presence of American troops in the country.

Marcos Jr. had indicated in media interviews his intent to retain Mr. Duterte’s policy vis-a-vis China, declaring it was “the right way to go.”

‘Balancing act’

But Arugay said Marcos Jr. has “a space to do a balancing act” between the United States and China that his predecessor did not do.

“Duterte attacked the US right away and he pivoted to China,” he told the Inquirer on the sidelines of a Philippine Navy forum on Wednesday.

This was a lesson learned for Washington, which was unprepared to deal with Duterte at the time, he said.

The United States under the Biden administration is not likely to bring up to Marcos Jr. the human rights abuses and corruption issues of his father right away “because they saw how dangerously close we were in abrogating the VFA and Mutual Defense Treaty,” Arugay said.

He added: “I think the US is going to make sure that it will not reach that point that the next administration will consider it again. The US was really in disbelief that it got so close to that.”

The United States is hosting a special summit of leaders of Southeast Asian countries from May 12 to 13 and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. left on Tuesday for Washington to represent Mr. Duterte.

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Locsin is expected to join Association of Southeast Asian Nations heads of state in a number of events hosted by US President Joe Biden and other US government officials during the two-day Asean-US Special Summit. —WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS AND REUTERS

TAGS: China, United States

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