MANILA: New Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday met China’s foreign minister who arrived in Manila to seek a “new golden era” in bilateral ties at a time when Beijing’s rival, the US, was also trying to boost its influence in the region.
Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, scored a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn in on June 30, vowing to open a new chapter in the country’s history and stating that his administration would pursue an independent foreign policy.
Wang Yi is the first top foreign official to make a working trip to Manila since the new president took office.
The meeting was held behind closed doors and Marcos only commented on Twitter that Wang had delivered to him a message of support from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We also discussed agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and our commitment to maintaining the strong relationship between our peoples in the coming years,” he said.
Prior to the meeting with Marcos, Wang told his Philippine counterpart, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, that Beijing was ready to work with Manila to “open up a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
“With President Marcos being elected, the China-Philippine relationship has turned a new page. We highly appreciate President Marcos’ recent commitment to pursuing a friendly policy toward China,” he said, as quoted by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.
Despite an ongoing dispute over the South China Sea — a strategic waterway claimed by China almost in its entirety, with overlapping claims by other regional countries, including the Philippines — Marcos’ immediate predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, embraced a Beijing-friendly direction, partly in attempts to distance the Philippines from the US, its key defense ally and former colonial master.
During his presidential campaign, Marcos committed to continuing the warm relations ushered in by Duterte, but not at the expense of sovereignty. He also said he would seek to tighten ties with Washington.
US President Joe Biden was one of the first world leaders to call Marcos and congratulate him on the victory in last month’s poll, even before the results were officially announced.
During the call on May 12, Marcos invited Biden to attend his inauguration to “further fortify the relationship of the two countries.” But when Marcos was sworn in, the highest US dignitary in attendance was Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff. At the same time, China sent its Vice President Wang Qishan.
As the Philippine economy is in post-pandemic recovery mode, Marcos has a tricky balancing act in boosting business ties with China while maintaining the US alliance anchored on a decades-old defense treaty that is seen as a bulwark against China’s growing influence in the region.
Victor Andres Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a research consultancy firm in Manila, told Arab News there was “nothing wrong” in pursuing a friendly policy toward China, “as long as it serves the Philippine national interest for greater trade and investment that will generate or contribute to an investment and job-generating growth trajectory for the Philippines.”
China’s envoy to Manila, Huang Xillan, said in a statement after Marcos’ meeting with Wang that it was a “new era of China-Philippine friendship.”
“I hope the visit deepens China-Philippines relations and fortifies our practical cooperation in many avenues, such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Comprehensive Infrastructure Plan,” he said. “I look forward to more in-depth exchanges on bilateral relations, new avenues of cooperation, and more productive results with the visit.”