‘Bonbong’ Marcos Jr. visits US for help, but also wants to be friends with China
It’s a complicated balancing act, which Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is engaged with. Starting Monday, he will make a four-day whirlwind visit to the White House, a clear hand to Americans. At the same time, the leader must also keep China on his side.
Marcos begins his four-day trip with a meeting with US President Joe Biden. “Essential to the national interest,” the Philippine leader said in a statement ahead of his trip.
Trade is on the agenda, but also the security of the Southeast Asian country. Located between Taiwan and the main waterways of the South China Sea, the Philippines is increasingly caught in the middle of geopolitical tensions. For example, there was a recent near-collision between the Chinese Coast Guard and a Filipino patrol boat, after which the United States called on Beijing to end its “provocative and dangerous behavior in the South China Sea”.
Americans stand with the Philippines, Biden stressed, calling the visit “a confirmation of America’s ironclad commitment to the Philippines.” The Philippines is important to the United States because it is strategically located near major waterways and Taiwan, which the United States has promised to defend against possible Chinese invasion.
Choice for the United States
Since Marcos Jr. came to power last year, the Philippines has increasingly favored the United States over China. For example, the US Army recently gained access to a total of nine strategically located Philippine Army bases. Marcos is visiting the United States for the second time in less than a year.
It is a break with the policy of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who opted for China and, due to criticism of its human rights violations, had little interest in ties with the West. He did not go to the United States once during his visit.
However, this is only one side of the coin. Because even under Marcos, the Philippines wants to keep China on good terms. Just last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang visited Manila, the Philippine capital. During the visit, the countries pleaded “to work together to resolve maritime disputes in the South China Sea.” During a visit to Beijing in January, Marcos pledged support for China’s Silk Road plans.
The Philippines can give the Americans access to strategic military bases, but they don’t want to end up in a conflict between the United States and China. Marcos therefore also has a clear message to Biden during his visit, he said: The fierce American rhetoric on the South China Sea and Taiwan could be taken down a notch. “This rhetoric must be curtailed by the United States.”
Controversial South China Sea fishing ban
Starting Monday, China will reintroduce a fishing ban for the northern part of the South China Sea, which affects both the fishing grounds of the Philippines and Vietnam. This ban has been in effect every year since 1999 between May 1 and August 16. According to China, it aims to encourage sustainable fishing. Vietnam calls it a violation of its sovereignty and has rejected the ban for years.
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