Presumptive President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is optimistic the relations between China and the Philippines are bound for more fruitful and meaningful outcomes for both countries under his administration.
Marcos made the assessment following a lengthy telephone conversation on Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also conveyed his congratulations for practically winning the May 9 elections.
Xi also assured him that China will respect and support his incoming administration’s independent foreign policy.
Marcos said he and the Chinese leader had a preliminary discussion on how Philippines-China bilateral relations could move forward.
“Hindi ‘yung pang karaniwan na congratulations…Talagang marami kaming pinag-usapan. [It was not the usual congratulations… We really discussed a lot]. We talked about the way forward for the China-Philippine relationship. So, magandang maganda (truly beautiful), very substantial,” he added.
Xi congratulated Marcos as the unofficial tallies of votes cast during the May 9 polls show the latter as the likely successor of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration forged friendlier relations with Beijing amid a lingering maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
In a Facebook post, the Chinese embassy said Xi stressed that the presumptive president’s father, the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., has participated in and witnessed the development of China-Philippines relations, calling Marcos a “builder, supporter, and promoter of the China-Philippines friendship.”
The Chinese leader “urged both countries to carry forward the friendship of the two sides and stay true to their original aspiration,” it added.
“President Xi said the two countries should also grasp the general trend, write a grand story on the China-Philippines friendship in the new era and follow through the blueprint for bilateral friendly cooperation, so as to usher in an even brighter future for the bilateral ties,” the embassy said.
This developed as the South China Morning post reported that ongoing drills involving China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier “offer pointers to how training plans for future carrier strike groups will develop,” according to military analysts.
The SCMP reported that the Japanese defense ministry released details of the exercises in the Philippine Sea this month and said the carrier’s J-15 fighters had carried out about 200 sorties during the first 10 days of the exercise, which began late last month.
Z-18 anti-submarine and early-warning helicopters were also taking part in the drills—which China has not confirmed any details of—the Japanese ministry added.
“It’s not clear whether ship-borne aircraft have taken part in night flight drills, but such training is more intense compared with previous drills that were disclosed to the public,” said Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at the Taiwanese Naval Academy, in the SCMP report.
Marcos added he proposed to Xi that dealings between their two countries could be expanded, not only in terms of bilateral relations.
“I told him that in my opinion, the way forward is to expand our relationship not only diplomatic, not only trade but also in culture, even in education, even in knowledge, even in health to address whatever minor disagreements that we have right now,” Marcos explained.
“I also told him we must not allow what conflicts or difficulties we have now between our two countries to become historically important,” he added.
“If you do not know where you have come from, you cannot go far,” Xi said, citing a Filipino saying, as he urged both countries to carry forward the friendship of the two sides and stay true to their original aspiration.
Marcos added: “(Xi) also said, I know the part that your family played in the opening of relationships. So I said the relationship between China and the Philippines is very, very important (not just) as a matter of foreign relations but also, there is an added facet because the opening of diplomatic relationships with People’s Republic of China and the Philippines, as started by my father, should continue to grow.”
Before the conversation ended, Marcos said both agreed to hold further bilateral talks to have a more comprehensive discussion of the issues.
“We are both looking forward to having further dialogues. And he stressed that they should be bilateral. (Xi) said we should talk between ourselves, and not involve others,” he disclosed.
On the Chinese naval exercises, SCMP reported that at least seven escort ships are accompanying the Liaoning—including a Type 055, the country’s most powerful and largest destroyer, three Type 052D destroyers, a supply ship, and two other vessels—to form China’s biggest ever strike group formation.
“The ongoing large-scale training operation aims to test and develop training guidelines and a doctrine for ship-borne aircraft carrier deck operations, high-sea logistic support, and other details, which will provide a reference point for the navy’s third aircraft carrier, the Type 003,” Taiwan’s Lu said.
The third aircraft carrier is expected to launch later this year with a more advanced launch system than the Liaoning and its sister ship the Shandong, the Hong Kong-based Morning Post’s report added.
“Except for the catapult take-off systems, all other operations on the new platform of the Type 003 will be very similar to the Liaoning,” Lu said.
The Liaoning carrier group has been operating for more than 20 days – right at the limit for the Soviet-designed ship, analysts told SCMP.
After high-frequency training in the first 10 days, aircraft on the Liaoning have reduced take-offs and landings to several sorties a day,” Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Tong said.
“The Liaoning is just a training platform, yet on a real combat-ready carrier, pushing too hard will cause accidents,” he told the HK paper.
Colin Koh, a research fellow with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the ongoing drills showed the Liaoning’s advances in developing complex carrier strike group tactics.
“This time, it’s not presumptuous to surmise that the Liaoning is further building on these experiences and using them to push the development of carrier strike group operating concepts … and quite clearly pushing the crew (especially the J-15 aircrews) hard on this,”
Koh told SCMP.
Choosing to drill in an area far from the Chinese mainland will push the People’s Liberation Army to create an autonomous and self-contained carrier strike group capability in the event of conflict, he added.
Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, said the Liaoning and other PLA naval vessels should take advantage of the best naval training period before the typhoon season starts around mid-June.