Marcos plays the balancing act during his meeting with Chinese FM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — New Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will meet with China’s top diplomat on Wednesday to discuss long-simmering disputes in the South China Sea as he addresses foreign policy dilemmas that include the American-Chinese rivalry in the region.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, wearing a formal Filipino shirt, met his counterpart for talks at the Foreign Ministry in Manila. He is to meet Marcos Jr. later at the presidential palace and convey to him Chinese President Xi Jinping’s invitation to visit Beijing, a Philippine official said.

Wang arrived in Manila on Tuesday evening as part of a trip to Southeast Asia that took him earlier to Myanmar and Thailand. He will also travel to Malaysia and Indonesia, where he will attend a meeting of G-20 foreign ministers in Bali.

Wang’s visit brings Marcos Jr. early on to delicate matters of foreign diplomacy that had often prompted his predecessors to carry out delicate balancing acts. Marcos Jr. was sworn in last week after a landslide election victory in May.

He told a televised press conference on Tuesday that he would discuss with Wang possible ways to resolve Manila’s differences with Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, but would also offer to further expand ties.

“China and the Philippines shouldn’t just be discussing the Western Philippine Sea,” Marcos said, using the Filipino name for the disputed waters. “Let’s do other things too. This way it will normalize our relationship.

“We have a lot of proposals for them in the sense that, as I said, we would like us to expand the scope,” he said, referring to the possible expansion of cultural, educational and military exchanges. .

He did not specify how he would handle territorial issues, but said he would generally follow the approach of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who focused on stepping up engagements with China.

After taking office in 2016, Duterte put disputes on the back burner and tried to nurture more comfortable relations with China. He ignored calls to aggressively demand that Beijing comply with a landmark 2016 ruling by a UN-backed arbitration tribunal that invalidated China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds. The court also ruled that China’s massive land claims and actions against Filipino fishermen on a disputed shoal violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China refused to participate in the arbitration, initiated by Duterte’s predecessor, the late Benigno Aquino III. Beijing continues to defy the decision, which was welcomed by the United States and other Western governments who took issue with China’s flexing of muscles.

Duterte’s position has been criticized by nationalists and activists as a “betrayal”, which they say marred the Philippines’ arbitration victory.

“If you’re talking about President Duterte’s policy of engagement with China, that’s really our only option,” Marcos Jr. told DZRH radio in January.

War is not an option, he said then, and added that China had rejected arbitration “so that option is not available to us.” Calling on the United States to mediate will immediately make China “your enemy”, he said.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez said Marcos Jr. is aware of the pitfalls of the US-China rivalry and will foster relations with the two world powers in a way that will help the Philippine economy grow. recover from two years of coronavirus pandemic lockdown and cushion it. of the global impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“He always quotes the saying that they are two elephants and when they fight they walk on the grass. We are the grass,” Romualdez said.

A first dilemma would be which of the two Marcos Jr. capitals should visit first.

President Joe Biden has sent a letter officially inviting him to Washington. Wang should relay Xi’s invitation for the new president to Beijing, Romualdez said.

Marcos Jr. plans to attend the UN General Assembly meeting in September, where he could have a first meeting with Biden on the sidelines. A separate US state visit may be scheduled in the near future, Romualdez said.

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