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IN retrospect, during President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first few months in office, there were high expectations that Philippines-China relations under his presidency would be more vibrant and rock-solid given that the Marcoses have a personal historical relationship with China. It may be recalled that during the presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., the incumbent’s father, official diplomatic ties between the Philippines and China were established on June 9, 1975.The young Ferdinand Marcos Jr. witnessed this historical and memorable event. This historic moment will be remembered forever in China-Philippines friendly relations and exchanges.On May 18, 2022, after the Philippine presidential elections, then president-elect Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a productive discussion on bilateral ties and regional development in a phone conversation. Xi congratulated Marcos again on his election as president. Xi called Marcos a builder, supporter and promoter of the China-Philippines friendship.
Xi said China will always give priority to the Philippines and will always provide active support and assistance to the Philippines in its economic and social development, noting that the two countries’ development was rooted in good-neighborly and friendly surroundings and also in an Asian family featuring win-win cooperation.The Chinese president said he hoped the Philippines would continue to pursue an independent foreign policy. He also said that China was ready to step up, expand, and strengthen the existing cooperation with a focus on the national economy and people’s welfare in such fields as infrastructure, agriculture, energy and education, as well as the anti-Covid-19 fight and post-pandemic recovery.On another note, recalling his friendly exchanges with China, president-elect Marcos said that the Filipino people regard China as one of their most important partners.Marcos Jr. also said that his administration would make Philippines-China relations a foreign policy priority and was ready to strengthen exchanges at various levels and deepen cooperation with China in the economy, trade, infrastructure, energy, culture and education.Marcos also expressed his full expectations for better and more robust development of bilateral relations. He said he was also ready to work with the Chinese side to inject new and strong impetus into developing bilateral ties.Marcos said he hoped that the relationship between China and the Philippines would shift to a higher gear and lead to more fruitful and meaningful outcomes for the two countries under his administration.In their first-ever phone conversation, Xi and Marcos Jr. stressed they would not allow the conflicts or difficulties between the two countries to become historically important.The then president-elect also said that Xi had assured him that China supported his stance on having an independent foreign policy and acknowledged the role his father played in the opening of diplomatic relations between their two countries.During this time, the expectation that the diplomatic and bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China, politically and economically, would be fruitful, vibrant and bright was in high gear.
Visit to China
Then came the visit of President Marcos to China, the Philippines’ most vital and strongest economic partner. The Philippine president’s visit to China was undoubtedly an overwhelming success.Indeed, the state visit was perceived in many ways by many Filipinos and Chinese as an act of reaffirmation of the friendly, traditional, and neighborly relations between the two countries.
Aside from goodwill, Marcos’ visit to China yielded concrete economic and political gains for both sides. Notably, 14 bilateral agreements were signed between on Jan. 4, 2023 on agriculture, infrastructure, development cooperation, maritime security and tourism, among others;In addition, the Chinese investors have committed $22.8 billion in investment pledges after President Marcos met them during his visit to China. These investment commitments include $1.72 billion for agribusiness, $13.76 billion for renewable energy (RE), and $7.32 billion for strategic monitoring. This was great news for the Philippines.But I guess the critical gains of the visit are on the political front, which was noteworthy. Most imperative was President Marcos’ assurance and declaration during his meetings with his counterpart that his administration intended to pursue an independent foreign policy and that his administration and the Philippines adhered to and respected the “One China” policy, which is one of the fundamental tenets of the official relations of the two countries.On the other hand, another two of the most critical political gains of President Marcos’ visit to China was Xi Jinping’s promise and pronouncement to “find a solution” and compromise to protect the livelihood of Filipino fishermen and “avoid any misunderstanding.” President Marcos brought up the Filipino fishermen’s plight in the South China Sea’s disputed waters in his talks with Xi. The other equally important gain on the political front was the agreement to move forward on an arrangement for the establishment of a communication mechanism on maritime issues between the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China to avoid any possible mistakes and misunderstandings that could trigger a bigger problem than the existing status quo.Thus, during the talks on this visit, it was evident that, indeed, on the issue of the disputed waters of the SCS, the Philippines and China, through the leadership of Marcos and Xi, want to approach the resolution of the dispute diplomatically and peacefully with lots of pragmatism, which I believe is the best way forward.
However, just a few weeks after the Marcos visit to China, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited the Philippines. Austin’s visit centered on convincing the Marcos administration to push through with the additional four EDCA bases, one of which will be facing Taiwan and another the disputed SCS; enhanced joint patrol in the SCS between the Philippines and the US together with US allies like Australia, staging thus far the biggest joint military exercise or the “Balikatan” between the Philippines and the US; and the deployment of more US troops and military assets on Philippine soil, of which the Marcos administration capitulated to Uncle Sam.As far as the current Marcos administration is concerned, the expansion and full implementation of EDCA with the additional four EDCA bases is a done deal. It was no less than President Marcos himself who recently said that the EDCA sites were already identified.One of the few lame excuses made by the administration for the EDCA expansion is the “China threat rhetoric” over the disputed SCS. This justification is quite deceptive, misguided and misleading. China is not an enemy or a threat. Rather it is the largest trading partner of the Philippines.Hence, with the four additional EDCA bases being a done deal alongside the strengthening of US influence in the country under a Marcos Jr. presidency, the foreign policy of the Philippines has no doubt pivoted, leaning more toward the US and not in any way a genuine and authentic independent foreign policy with peace as its core value in every sense. This is the crux of the matter.
No doubt, with the EDCA expansion, the pivot to the US foreign policy of the Philippines under a Marcos Jr. presidency, and the re-emergence of US influence in the country, I am not sure if indeed the Philippines-China friendship, mutual understanding, economic cooperation and good political relations will withstand the test of time under a Marcos Jr. presidency. This remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I always hope for the best, and I hope that the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China, despite the challenges it is faced with at the moment, will stand and endure.
Source: The Manila Times