Chinese Foreign Minister’s Manila Visit Won’t Improve Sino–Philippine Relations, Expert Says

Chinese Foreign Minister’s Manila Visit Won’t Improve Sino–Philippine Relations, Expert Says
A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails near a Philippine Coast Guard vessel during its patrol at Bajo de Masinloc, 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province northwestern Philippines, on March 2, 2022. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)
4/27/2023
Updated:
4/27/2023
0:00

The Philippines has become a key country in the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific, at a time when the strategic competition between the United States and China is intensifying. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang made a recent visit to Manila in a bid to repair bilateral relations damaged by China’s aggression.

However, Qin’s visit may have been in vain, an international observer says.

The Philippines and the United States have recently increased cooperation on national security. This year, the Philippines has opened four military bases to the U.S. military and launched the largest joint military exercise in decades to deepen military cooperation with the United States.

The relationship between the Philippines and the Chinese communist regime has deteriorated because of the latter’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

Qin, who visited the Philippines from April 21 to April 23, said China is willing to cooperate to resolve the nations’ differences over the hotly contested waterway.

China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang (2nd R) and China's Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian (R) attend a meeting with Philippines Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo at the Diamond Hotel in Metro Manila on April 22, 2023. (Gerard Carreon/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang (2nd R) and China's Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian (R) attend a meeting with Philippines Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo at the Diamond Hotel in Metro Manila on April 22, 2023. (Gerard Carreon/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
But experts believe that it'll be very difficult for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to restore relations with the Philippines.

Marcos Turns to US

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. pledged to continue former President Rodrigo Duterte’s China policies during his presidential campaign. At the time, he said Duterte’s diplomatic engagement policy was “really our only option.”

However, after being elected in May 2022, Marcos changed his tone, saying the Philippines wouldn’t give up even a square inch of territory to any foreign power.

Song Guocheng, a researcher at the International Relations Research Center of National Chengchi University, told The Epoch Times that there are two main reasons for the drastic change in the Philippines’ policy toward the CCP.

“In the early days, Marcos Jr. made some relatively pro-China remarks in the hope that the CCP would expand investment or so-called loans to the Philippines,” he said. ”But the CCP did not fulfill its promise, so Marcos Jr. felt a little bit cheated.”

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. speaks during the 126th anniversary of the founding of the Philippine Army at Fort Bonifacio near Manila, Philippines, on March 22, 2023. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. speaks during the 126th anniversary of the founding of the Philippine Army at Fort Bonifacio near Manila, Philippines, on March 22, 2023. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

The Philippines has benefited little from Duterte’s pro-China policies. While Duterte has made frequent visits to China amid the Beijing regime’s promises to invest tens of billions of dollars in the Philippines, less than half of those have been fulfilled, Japanese media outlet Nikkei reported.

“Another reason is that for a long time, the CCP has been harassing Filipino fishermen on the islands and reefs that the Philippines claims sovereignty over, especially the use of military lasers to cause temporary blindness to Filipino crew members a while ago. This is a military attack,” Song said.

“These two reasons led to Marcos Jr.’s determination, and he decided to turn to the United States.”

Qin’s Urgent Visit

Qin’s visit coincided with the largest joint U.S.–Philippines military exercise in decades, involving more than 17,000 personnel from both countries.
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr (center left) attends a live-fire drill on April 26, 2023, at the Naval Education Training and Doctrine Command in San Antonio, Zambales, Philippines. The live fire drill was part of the annual U.S.–Philippines drills called Balikatan, meaning "shoulder to shoulder" in Tagalog. (Jes Aznar/Getty Images)
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr (center left) attends a live-fire drill on April 26, 2023, at the Naval Education Training and Doctrine Command in San Antonio, Zambales, Philippines. The live fire drill was part of the annual U.S.–Philippines drills called Balikatan, meaning "shoulder to shoulder" in Tagalog. (Jes Aznar/Getty Images)

Song believes that the tense relationship between China and the Philippines and the closer military cooperation between the United States and the Philippines led to Qin’s urgent visit to the Philippines, hoping to mend the tense relationship between China and the Philippines through diplomatic means or economic incentives.

Qin said during his visit that China is willing to work with the Philippines to maintain the correct direction of Sino–Philippines relations, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, and properly resolve differences between the two countries.

After the meeting with Qin, Marcos said the two countries agreed to establish more dialogue channels to resolve the South China Sea disputes.

However, Song said the communication lines established by the CCP have been unable to gain the trust of the international community anymore, and the traditionally established hotlines between China and the United States have been cut off by the CCP.

“I think it is impossible for Marcos Jr. to maintain a friendly relationship with the CCP,” he said. “He is determined to turn to the United States. Through cooperation with the United States, he will resist the CCP’s aggression and harm and protect national and regional security.”

Zheng Xiaoqi and Yi Ru contributed to this report.
Alex Wu is a U.S.-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on Chinese society, Chinese culture, human rights, and international relations.
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