TCSS Security Commentaries #031

It is yet to see whether establishing direct communication between Manila and Beijing would result in more diplomatic progress or protests.

Angelo Brian T. Castro, TCSS

Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. visited Beijing for three days to discuss investment deals with China and raise the issue of the South China Sea (SCS) on January 3-5. Unlike his predecessors, President Marcos Jr. took a different approach to the Chinese government. It is important to note that former President Marcos Sr. visited Beijing to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhu Enlai to establish formal diplomatic relations with China in 1975. At the recent APEC Summit in Bangkok, Marcos Jr., and Xi Jinping held a short meeting, leading to the recent state visit. During the visit, former president and now Representative Gloria Macapagal M. Arroyo, whose favorable relationship with China is well-known, accompanied the delegation.

Philippine President Marcos Jr.’s bilateral Meeting with Chinese President Xi
Source: Office of the Press Secretary

The visit comes from the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ concern about Beijing’s activities in the SCS that contravene the Declaration of Conduct and the 2016 Arbitral Award. According to recent reports, new reclamations are ongoing in the SCS on Anda Reef, Whitsun Reef, Sandy Cay, and Lankiam Cay.

After the visit, Marcos Jr. lauded the growing maturity of the Philippines-China bilateral relationship. According to the Philippines Office of the Press Secretary, Manila and Beijing inked fourteen bilateral agreements concerning agriculture and trade, cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), joint action plan for 2023–2025 on agricultural and fisheries cooperation. The Manila’s Department of Agriculture (DA) and Beijing’s General Administration of Customs also agreed on a protocol on phytosanitary criteria for exporting fresh durians from the Philippines to China.

On technology, Beijing and Manila agreed on the Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology-Technological Cooperation Phase III’s transfer certificate (PHILSCAT-TCP III). The Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation in digital and information and communications technology (ICT). The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Ministry of Commerce of China signed an MOU on cooperation in electronic commerce, an MOU on the Development Cooperation Plan 2023–2025 between the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and China’s International Development Cooperation Agency, and an agreement on economic and technical cooperation between China and the Philippines.

For infrastructure, the handover certificate for the Binondo-Intramuros and Estrella-Pantaleon bridges, two China-aid bridge projects in Manila, was also sealed. Additionally, both nations approved a framework agreement to fund three Department of Public Works and Highways priority projects with loans in Renminbi (DPWH). They also signed four loan agreements for the public works department’s three priority bridge projects, financed with a mix of credit (U.S. dollars and Renminbi).

Further examination of these deals is needed, especially in securing another loan and financing from China, as previous loans and financial cooperation skewed in China’s favor. Concerning the previous loans from China to the Philippines, these loans are more expensive than other countries. Chinese projects in the Philippines do not benefit the Filipino workforce and threaten local jobs with the influx of Chinese labor. The migration of workers also drove up the price of rent above the current standards in the country.

However, Marcos Jr.’s visit to Beijing is considered one of the most fruitful of his overseas trips. On this trip, 14 bilateral agreements were signed compared to the meeting between Marcos Jr. and U.S. Pres. Joe Biden on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last September 2022. The meeting between Marcos Jr. and Biden did not immediately result in a state visit compared to the visit to Beijing just three months after the Philippine and Chinese president meeting during the 2022 APEC Summit in Bangkok. The establishment of the direct line between China and the Philippine government regarding maritime disputes is a result of the numerous diplomatic protests by the Philippines for the continued security and economic issues from the SCS. However, it is yet to see whether establishing direct communication would result in more diplomatic progress or protests. It also piques the curiosity if the agreements on agriculture and economy can also address the persisting rotational low supply of Philippine agricultural products for local consumption that raised its prices to more than double.

Angelo Brian T. Castro is a Research Assistant at Taiwan Center for Security Studies (TCSS) and a doctoral student in Asia-Pacific studies at National Chengchi University. His research interests include ASEAN affairs, politics, public health, culture, economy, and business.