As we enter a new year, the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. endeavored to write a new chapter in Philippine-China relations. In his speech before embarking on a historic trip to Beijing, President Marcos laid out the fundamental objective of his visit: “I will be opening a new chapter in our comprehensive strategic cooperation with China.” He added that his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping will shift “the trajectory of our relations to a higher gear” and broaden cooperation between the two countries.
The three-day trip was an important one coming as it was amidst the territorial disputes between the two countries. This is complicated by the deep historical ties we have with the United States which has engaged China in an economic and geopolitical tug of war. The state visit, which came after his visit to the US, was seen by experts as indicator of the shape of things to come as far as bilateral relations between the two countries are concerned.
The first thing that I was really impressed by was President Marcos’ assertion of our country’s sovereignty. He reported that during his talks with President Xi he expressed his administration’s intention to pursue an independent foreign policy. This was, of course, in line with the Constitutional mandate and an important statement to make at the onset. President Bongbong said: “I emphasized how my administration intends to pursue an independent foreign policy, that we are more than willing to cooperate whenever possible in the pursuit of regional peace and our two countries’ national interest.”
This is the perfect follow up to the theme of President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy direction that also insisted on our sovereignty and the insistence that we be treated as equals in the global community. Sustaining this policy position was very critical not just to the status of the new Chief Diplomat but also the position of our country among the community of nations.
During the meeting between the two leaders, Presidents Marcos and Xi agreed to “appropriately manage differences,” and “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability in the region.” This is a clear and unambiguous statement from the Philippines and China that should set the right direction in our foreign relations. The South China Sea has long been a source of tension between the two countries and in fact in the region. Controversies would periodically flare up sending the two countries into a series of diplomatic protests, denials, and assertions of sovereignty over the disputed territory.
The two leaders also agreed to resume negotiations on joint oil and gas explorations in an effort to revive their economies amid the pandemic downturn and address tensions over the South China Sea.
In addition to these accomplishments, the state visit of President Marcos, Jr. generated an estimated $22.8 billion worth of investment pledges which included $13.76 billion for renewable energy, $7.32 billion for electric vehicles and mineral processing, and $1.72 billion for agriculture.
Some quarters have criticized the frequent travels of the President linking it to extravagance. These critics need to realize that official visits to other countries are important because they are essential tools of economic and political diplomacy. The Presidency has a multitude of responsibilities, some domestic, some global. When a president travels it does not mean that he is neglecting his duties at home. The bureaucracy still functions and with advancements in communications technology, the President can always attend to urgent matters when they arise.
And it is not as if these visits are for sightseeing purposes. Malacañang reported that in his first six months in office, President Marcos’ visits to Indonesia, Singapore, the US, Cambodia and Thailand have generated a total of $23.6 billion in investment pledges. I have been to numerous visits during the term of President Duterte and I can tell you that they are no picnics. The delegations have hectic schedules and meetings with counterparts and more importantly, with the Filipino community in the host country.
The first months of his presidency has demonstrated President Marcos’ knowledge of statecraft. He understands that the requirements of good governance include building a healthy and productive relations with allies. And so rather than baseless criticisms, we should instead give our chief diplomat the support he needs to be successful in foreign relations.