What will be the contours of Philippines-China relations in the next six years?
If the recent meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ meeting in Bangkok, Thailand last week is any indication, we can expect bilateral ties to remain warm and friendly.
The two countries agreed to hold ‘friendly consultation’ on the South China Sea and to “handle differences and disputes properly,” according to the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
“As two developing countries in Asia, China and the Philippines need to keep strategic independence, uphold peace, openness and inclusiveness, and stay the course of regional cooperation. They should work together to reject unilateralism and acts of bullying, defend fairness and justice, and safeguard peace and stability in the region,” the embassy said.
For his part, Marcos stressed that the bilateral ties of the two nations should not be defined by maritime issues and that both sides should further enhance communication on this matter.
The Philippines also vowed to engage in consultations with China and explore ways to advance joint maritime and gas resources exploration.
Before the Marcos-Xi meeting in Bangkok, Marcos had urged his fellow leaders during a speech at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia to “ensure that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, a sea of security and stability, and of prosperity.”
He also pushed for the completion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea as tensions continue between claimant nations in the resource-rich waterway.
Marcos is scheduled to go on a state visit to China in early January next year upon the invitation of the Chinese president.
Will the two leaders discuss the South China Sea dispute? That remains to be seen. What is clear at this point is that they are likely to deal with other aspects of current bilateral relations.
The Philippines and China have already established a mechanism since 2017 to discuss issues and concerns related to the South China Sea.
The Bilateral Consultation Mechanism has so far held at least five meetings attended by an equal number of diplomats on either side.
But apart from issuing communiqués after each meeting, the two sides have yet to come out with a comprehensive report on the progress made in such consultative meetings.
With the recent appointment of a new Philippine ambassador to Beijing with broad knowledge of Chinese contemporary history from the 1970s up to the present, former journalist Jaime FlorCruz can be expected to build upon the gains made earlier by his predecessor, the late Chito Sta. Romana, and help immensely in forging stronger Philippine-China relations in the years ahead.