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Date: 13 June 2022 Author: Wojciech Adamczyk
Marcos Jr. presidential win a chance to boost Philippines relations with China?
The landslide victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippines presidential elections on the 9th of May might bring a structural change to the ASEAN member country in relations with China and the United States, more likely being a boon for China. With 31.6 million votes and twice the votes gained by the opposition leader, Lena Robredo, son of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos has long-standing ties with China. As the result, Marcos Jr. will be the Philippines’ first majority president since 1965, when his father became president.
Very rocky relations between the Philippines and China in recent years, might „shift to a higher gear”, where disputes over territorial claims, the code of conduct of both coast guard and fishing fleet in the South China Sea were leaving relations strained. The phone conversation between Xi and Marcos has shown signs of a new, more friendly attitude towards bilateral cooperation.
Marco’s relations with the United States are very complicated, mainly because of the refusal to co-operate with the District Court of Hawaii, which sentenced Marcos’s family to pay $2 billion of plundered wealth to victims of Marcos Sr.’s rule. Being a centre of the geopolitical competition between the US and China, the Philippines under the rule of Marcos Jr. are more willing to seek a new deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the contested waters of the South China Sea.
It is worth mentioning that for the US, the Philippines are one of the most critical in the region, where among many initiatives, the US army has its troop rotations in the country, and its presence seeks to create a counter-balance to Beijing’s increasing footprint. For long years, Manila has sought to balance its ties with China and the US, and it is expected that Marcos will have to navigate through both relationships or play them off one another. On the other hand, it will be important how US president Joe Biden’s administration will respond to Marcos’s return to power in the Philippines. It might be decisive, whether the US will treat the Philippines respectively in regards to its geostrategic interests, or will rather choose promotion of American democratic ideals and human rights issues that may end up as an isolation of the Marcos administration.
As the victory of Marcos has been seen as a win for China, the past six years have already shown a more amiable approach towards the Chinese government led by ex-president Rodrigo Duterte. It was he, who declared his „separation” from the US in military and economic aspects. The visit of the Chinese president to Manila in 2018 was followed by more than a hundred investment pledges, agreements and donations. Still, so far these promises seem to be not materialised, although China has become the Philippines’ top trading partner. That’s why, Marcos has a handful of projects to be completed, which at the same time may help him to navigate with the US in pursuing the foreign policy of the country.
So far, it is unclear what kind of policy will Marcos Jr. pursue. His statements on the importance of sovereignty as a sacred issue may indicate that he will use the favourable 2016 ruling of the huge arbitral tribunal to achieve certain goals, for instance regarding fishing in waters of the South China Sea. What’s more, Marcos Jr. considers his foreign policy as undoubtedly a „pro-Philippines” one. This may also mean, a so-called turnaround after a few years of openly „pro-Beijing” policies. Regardless of what actions, Marcos Jr. will take, and how the US will respond to the return of the Marcos family, there are myriad issues that will form the Philippines’ relations with China and the US. After all, we may expect a more dynamic state of relations with these two superpowers.
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