New President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s friendly policy toward Beijing promises to usher in a “golden era” in Sino-Philippine relations, China’s top diplomat said during a visit here Wednesday, only weeks after Manila filed another protest over Chinese boats intruding in territorial waters.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a courtesy call to Marcos after meeting with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo. Wang said the nations’ two-way relationship “overcame all sorts of difficulties” under previous Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte, who handed the reins of government to Marcos on June 30.
However, as Duterte pursued closer ties with Beijing during his six years in power, bilateral tensions over the South China Sea persisted as senior officials from his administration complained about the unauthorized presence of Chinese ships within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Given the “uncertain, unstable and complex regional and international dynamics, it is even more important for China and the Philippines, as two close neighbors, to join hands to further enhance mutual trust (and) expand mutually beneficial cooperation,” Wang said through an interpreter about his meeting with Manalo.
“This will not only serve the common interest of the two countries and two peoples but will also be our important contribution to peace and stability in our region,” he said, noting that cooperation during the previous administration brought “tangible benefits” to both countries.
Wang’s visit to Manila was his third stop on a five-nation tour of Southeast Asia. The Philippines, an archipelago in the middle of the disputed South China Sea, is one of the region’s oldest defense allies of China’s main superpower rival, the United States, whom Marcos’ father, the longtime Filipino dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, staunchly supported during his rule from 1965 to 1986.
Shortly after Duterte took office in mid-2016, an international arbitration court ruled in favor of Manila over Beijing after its ships refused to leave Scarborough Shoal, which lies within the Philippine EEZ.
Instead of confronting China, Duterte set aside the ruling in favor of investments and cooperation. The soft approach allowed Beijing to carry on with its expansionist moves in the maritime region, according to observers.
With the election of Marcos, Beijing’s relationship with Manila has “turned a new page,” Wang said.
“We highly appreciate President Marcos’ recent commitment to pursuing friendly policy toward China,” said Wang, whose government is seeking to blunt U.S. influence in Southeast Asia. “And we speak highly of his recent statements that have sent out very positive signals to the outside world.”
He quoted Marcos as saying that China “is the strongest partner of the Philippines” and that he hopes to fortify the relationship.
China, in turn, is “ready to work toward the same direction,” Wang said. “And I am confident, with our two sides working together, we can surely open up a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
After the meeting, Marcos posted a message on Twitter saying he was “grateful to Minister Wang Yi for extending the message of congratulations and support from President Xi Jinping. We also discussed agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and our commitment to maintaining the strong relationship between our peoples in the coming years.”
The new president had previously said he would pursue close ties with China without necessarily giving away the country’s sovereignty.
On Tuesday, before Wang landed in Manila, Marcos said the visit was expected to boost ties with Beijing, including through military exchanges.
“It’s essentially always trying to find ways to improve relationships. We would like for us to increase the scope. China and the Philippines should not only focus on the West Philippine Sea. Let’s do other things too and that way we will normalize our relationship,” Marcos said, referring to Philippine-claimed territories in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea including waters within the EEZs of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. While Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to the maritime disputes, Beijing also claims historic rights to parts of the sea that overlap Indonesia’s EEZ.
Last month, the Philippines announced that it had filed a new diplomatic protest against Beijing over a massive Chinese fleet operating “illegally” in April around Whitsun Reef.
The complaint cited a 2016 landmark international court ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the waterway. Beijing has refused to recognize the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.