The eyes of allies and critics will be on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. once again, this time during his three-day state visit to the People’s Republic of China which begins today, at the invitation of President Xi Jinping.
This visit, the first outside of Southeast Asia—he was previously in the United States and Belgium on an official visit—will be his seventh as head of state and is certain to invite the attention of political and diplomatic as well as military observers.
Nearly two months ago, the 65-year-old President said he was keen on bringing up the country’s position on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea in a future discussion with Xi, four years the President’s senior.
The President talked of the Code of Conduct, which aims to manage tensions in the South China Sea, a resource-rich and strategically important waterway interlaced with overlapping claims from China and several ASEAN countries including the Philippines.
ASEAN, founded in 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, has developed friendly relations and mutually beneficial dialogues, cooperation, and partnerships with countries and sub-regional, regional and international organizations and institutions.
At the Summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia last November, Mr. Marcos, in a chance interview with media on board PR001 en route to Phnom Penh, where the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit was held, talked about the Code of Conduct, with observers believing this might be raised during the meeting between the two leaders in Beijing.
Presidents Marcos and Xi first met during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Bangkok in November 2022.
“I think the Code of Conduct has not moved forward, it’s not really moving forward. Maybe we can [talk about the West Philippine Sea] using that, the Code of Conduct,” said Mr. Marcos then.
The President is making the three-day visit despite concerns over the renewed spread of COVID-19 in China, but Philippine officials have said there are some visits that cannot be postponed.
Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Nathaniel Imperial told media during a briefing on December 29 the importance and urgency of the trip was understandable, adding it would “set the tone of bilateral relations between the two countries in the next five to six years.”
Given recent developments in the West Philippine Sea, where there have been confrontations between the Philippine military and the Chinese Coast Guard/maritime militia vessels, the proposal to set up a direct communication line between the top diplomats of the two countries to prevent any escalation of maritime disputes is well timed.
China is competing for influence—political, economic, and cultural—in the world stage, with the Asia Pacific being among the key arenas.
The President’s China visit is part of his government’s bid to animate ties with China and Chinese President Xi’s relationship with the Philippines under a second Marcos president.
In the meanwhile, we watch with our eyes and ears close to the echoes of the north wind.