Biden Meets Marcos in Washington Amid Tensions With China – PNCU Lonas Online

WASHINGTON — President Biden met with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. of the Philippines at the White House on Monday, a visit meant to send a message to China that the Filipino leader planned to deepen his country’s relationship with the United States.

Mr. Marcos’s trip comes days after the U.S. and Philippine militaries held joint exercises aimed at curbing China’s influence in the South China Sea and strengthening the United States’ ability to defend Taiwan if China invades. The exercises were part of a rapid and intensifying effort between the two countries: In February, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military would expand its presence in the Philippines, and this spring, four new military sites were announced.

“We are facing new challenges, and I couldn’t think of a better partner to have than you,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Marcos in the Oval Office on Monday. The president listed initiatives that the two countries would work together on, including climate change and clean energy. Mr. Biden also announced trade and investment missions to the Philippines to encourage private-sector investments in the country.

But Mr. Biden emphasized that the main point of the visit, as far as American officials were concerned, was to shore up Filipino security and military capabilities.

“The United States also remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea, and we will continue to support the Philippines’ military modernization,” Mr. Biden said.

The trip is the Biden administration’s latest push to bolster its relationships with key Asian allies — who are also military treaty partners with the United States — as tensions with China rise. Mr. Biden welcomed President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea for a state visit last week with discussions largely focused on deterring the missile program in North Korea, whose leader has grown more emboldened by a supportive China.

In January, Mr. Biden hosted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan at the White House. He will travel to Japan and Australia this month to shore up relationships with allies in the Indo-Pacific.

The strategic importance of the Philippines is a matter of proximity. Its northernmost island of Itbayat is less than 100 miles from Taiwan. An increased U.S. military presence could allow for a quick troop response in a war with China. For the United States, Mr. Marcos is an eager but untested partner.

Mr. Biden and his advisers have been focusing on cultivating Mr. Marcos — who goes by Bongbong and is the son and namesake of the former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos — as a regional ally since his inauguration last year. Mr. Marcos is eager to repair the ties between his government and the United States, which frayed under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s leadership, particularly amid his brutal antidrug campaign. Mr. Marcos won election last year by forging an alliance with Mr. Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte.

Unlike Mr. Duterte, who was friendly toward Beijing and at times confrontational or dismissive of American leadership, Mr. Marcos has tried to turn back to the United States to restore a decades-old but complicated alliance.

In the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States won control of the Philippines from Spain, which had ruled the archipelago for centuries. American forces then brutally suppressed a Filipino independence movement, in a war that is largely forgotten in the United States, but not in the Philippines.

Japan invaded the islands during World War II, and Americans and Filipinos fought together to end that occupation. The Philippines gained its independence in 1946, and in 1951 entered into a mutual defense treaty with the United States.

American officials say that Mr. Marcos has little desire to wade directly into the middle of the conflict between the two countries, but he is also under domestic pressure to defend his country: 84 percent of Filipinos believe that Mr. Marcos’s government should work with the United States to protect its sovereignty in the disputed waters, according to polling published last year.

“All of the gains the U.S. makes in the region has been far less about U.S. successes and about China not being able to stop kicking around its smaller neighbors,” said Gregory B. Poling, the director of the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He added that polling among Filipinos showed frustration with Beijing and broad support of the United States. The Biden administration, he said, has “walked through an open door.”

Beijing has claimed historic rights to much of the South China Sea, and Manila has claimed that Chinese ships have harassed and intimidated Filipino fishing vessels. In recent days, the United States has accused Beijing of intimidating Filipino vessels in the sea.

The State Department called on China to “desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct.” An armed attack on Philippine vessels or forces, the department warned, “would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”

U.S. officials are hopeful that the fragile Marcos-Duterte accord is strong enough to withstand pressure domestically but also from Beijing, which has warned the Filipino government to “properly handle issues” related to Taiwan and the South China Sea. The response, last week, was the largest ever joint drill between the United States and the Philippines.

“It is only natural,” Mr. Marcos said in the Oval Office, that the Philippines “look to its sole treaty partner in the world to strengthen, to redefine, the relationship that we have and the roles that we play in the face of those rising tensions that we see now around the South China Sea and Asia Pacific.”

His visit is a first for a Filipino leader in over a decade. As a senator and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Biden was among the lawmakers who criticized President Ronald Reagan’s deep support for Mr. Marcos’s father, who ruled the Philippines for 20 years and declared martial law before a revolt led to his ouster in 1986. Mr. Biden is now trying to build an alliance with the younger Mr. Marcos.

“We can do a lot together,” Mr. Biden told him during a meeting on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly last fall. “I’m desperately interested in making sure we do.”

Isabella Kwai contributed reporting from London.

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