The new president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is set to meet with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, to discuss various disputes in the South China Sea. Marcos recently announced that his administration would aim to help forge closer ties with Beijing and increase military exchanges with China. This comes as tensions rise in the South China Sea, as China claims nearly the entirety of the sea, including economic zones of Myanmar, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In the weeks before Marcos came to power, the Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest against China, adding to a list of over 300 complaints filed against China’s allegedly illegal maritime activities in the South China Sea. However, President Marcos is committed to ameliorating relations with China through the use of public and economic diplomacy but will likely find himself in a delicate balancing act between the United States and China.
Key Judgement 1: It is highly likely that Chinese-Philippine relations will be improved through soft power and public diplomacy tactics over the next months.
- President Marcos has highlighted the need to improve Manila’s relationship with China in ways that go beyond maritime security issues. (source)
- Historically, soft diplomacy is key to improving bilateral ties between nations. Forging better relations at the state-to-state and people-to-people levels is essential to enhancing mutual cooperation between nations. (source)
- The Foreign Service Institute of the Philippines recently published guidance discussing the importance of cultural exchanges, sports and media diplomacy, and open tourism between China and the Philippines. These tools aim to improve the countries’ relations and make diplomacy between them multi-dimensional. (source)
Key Judgement 2: It is likely that the Philippines will struggle to find a balance between improving ties with China and maintaining its close relations with the United States over the next months.
- Like many nations, including India, the Philippines will likely find itself in a tricky balancing act between China and the US. The Philippines and the US, in particular, have had an incredibly strong and unique relationship for decades; the US is one of the largest foreign investors in the Philippines and is the country’s third-largest trading partner. (source)
- Marcos is likely to follow his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, approach of maintaining a strong alliance with Washington while also forging stronger ties with . Marcos’ approach to the US is heavily dependent on how President Biden engages with him, particularly if Biden chooses to heavily promote human rights in the Philippines (source)
Key Judgement 3: It is highly likely that the Philippines will rely on China to help alleviate its looming economic crisis in the next twelve months.
- The Philippines is suffering from rising inflation rates and ballooning debt which has increased by over 20% this year. (source)
- The Philippines’ outgoing finance secretary warned that the new administration will have to produce over $50 billion in revenue annually to ameliorate the country’s economic situation. However, Marcos has spoken in favour of continuing infrastructure spending, stating that the economy will recover with the help of “partners,” including the country’s “strongest partner..close neighbour and good friend,” China. (source)
Intelligence Cut-Off Date: August 6, 2022