President Joe Biden is poised to host a meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines at the White House on Monday, amidst growing concerns about China’s navy’s intimidation tactics towards Philippine vessels in the South China Sea.
This visit by Marcos comes after the U.S. and the Philippines concluded their biggest war drills ever last week. Additionally, the two countries’ air forces will conduct their first joint fighter jet training since 1990 on Monday.
This year, the Philippines agreed to grant the U.S. access to four more bases on its islands, as the U.S. tries to deter China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan.
Meanwhile, China has been irritating the Philippines by continuously harassing its navy and coast guard patrols, and driving fishermen away from waters that are close to the Philippines’ shores, but that Beijing claims as its own.
Before heading to Washington on Sunday, Marcos stated that he was “determined to forge an ever stronger relationship with the United States in a wide range of areas that not only address the concerns of our times but also those that are critical to advancing our core interests.”
This Oval Office meeting is the most recent in a series of high-level diplomacy with Pacific leaders by Biden, as his administration addresses the rising military and economic assertiveness of China and the nuclear program of North Korea. Marcos’ official visit to Washington is the first by a Philippine president in more than a decade.
During Marcos’ four-day visit to Washington, the two sides are expected to discuss the security situation and propose new economic, education, climate, and other initiatives.
The White House will use this visit to announce the transfer of three C-130 aircraft and coastal patrol vessels to the Philippines, as well as a new U.S. trade mission aimed at increasing American investment in the Philippines’ innovation economy, new educational programming, and more.
The visit has gained additional significance due to the increased harassment of vessels by China in the South China Sea. On April 23, journalists from The Associated Press and other outlets were aboard the Philippine coast guard’s BRP Malapascua near Second Thomas Shoal when a Chinese coast guard ship blocked the Philippine patrol vessel from entering the disputed shoal. Since last year, the Philippines has filed over 200 diplomatic protests against China, at least 77 since Marcos took office in June.
According to two senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to preview the leaders’ meeting, the two sides are expected to discuss the security situation and propose new economic, education, climate, and other initiatives.
According to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, China’s recent “provocative and unsafe conduct” in the region must stop. U.S. and Taiwanese officials are concerned about China’s recent comments critical of the Philippines for granting the U.S. military increased access to bases.
At an April forum, China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, reportedly stated that the Philippines should oppose Taiwan’s independence if it cares about its overseas Filipino workers. China claims Taiwan as its own and has been putting pressure on the Philippines with various provocative actions, including questioning the U.S. military’s presence in the region.
The officials reported that Huang’s comments are just one of the many recent actions by China to put pressure on the Philippines. Beijing is particularly concerned about the location of the new bases, with two facing north toward Taiwan, and the third located near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. still desires to work closely with both Washington and Beijing but finds China’s actions deeply concerning.
Historical considerations present challenges to the relationship between the U.S. and Marcos Jr. due to long-standing litigation in the United States against the estate of his father, Ferdinand Marcos. A U.S. appeals court in 1996 upheld damages of about $2 billion against the elder Marcos’ estate for the torture and killings of thousands of Filipinos. However, the U.S. president, Joe Biden, acknowledged the two countries’ sometimes “rocky” past during his meeting with Marcos Jr. last September, where he expressed his desire to improve relations.
During his visit to the United States, Marcos Jr. is set to meet with Cabinet members and business leaders and make remarks at a Washington think tank. Despite the challenges, the U.S.-Philippines relationship seems to be on the mend.