China-Philippines relations

Ferdinand Marcos Jr (left) with Mao Zedong (centre) and Imelda Marcos, on a visit to China in September 1957. (Twitter)

Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, the president-elect who kissed Mao Zedong

With Ferdinand Marcos Jr achieving a landslide win in the Philippine presidential election, how will the Philippines’ China policy change? In particular, given the legacy of the Marcos family’s good relations with China as well as former President Duterte’s pro-China stance, how will the incoming president handle relations with the US?
Traffic in front of a Chinese restaurant in Boracay, Aklan, the Philippines, on 23 March 2022. (Veejay Villafranca/Bloomberg)

The Belt and Road Initiative and the Philippines’ post-Duterte China challenge

Even under China-friendly President Duterte, Chinese BRI projects in the Philippines still encountered strong political opposition and faced several challenges in their roll-out. Ultimately, a positive domestic response to the BRI hinges on whether Manila can negotiate mutually beneficial and fair deals that allow China to contribute to the Philippines' economic agenda.
Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, on the campaign trail for the 2022 presidential election, at the Philippine Arena, in Bulacan province, Philippines, 8 February 2022. (Lisa Marie David/Reuters)

2022 elections may bring change to the Philippines' China policy

Foreign policy does not usually feature prominently in the Philippine presidential elections, but it should in May this year as candidates will be expected to raise the country’s China policy in policy debates given the accommodating approach adopted by the Duterte administration and its residual effects on the country’s body politic and strategic posture. Apart from territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea, China’s impact on issues such as food security and access to natural resources, migration, business regulation, and transnational crime would also come to the fore.
Philippine Marines fold a Philippine national flag during a flag retreat at the BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, 29 March 2014. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Can the next Philippine president stand up to Chinese pressure in the South China Sea?

The winner of the 2022 Philippines presidential elections will determine how the Philippines will handle its legally recognised claims in the West Philippine Sea both domestically and in the regional arena. While current President Rodrigo Duterte has gone against public sentiment several times with his relatively friendly stance towards China, his successor will have to decide how to handle Chinese maritime actions that put pressure on smaller neighbours in Southeast Asia.
This file photo taken on 29 March 2014 shows a Philippine Navy vessel that has been grounded since 1999 to assert the nation's sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea reef also claimed by China. (Jay Directo/AFP)

Second Thomas ShoaI: Is China bullying its smaller neighbours in the South China Sea?

ISEAS academic Ian Storey thinks that despite what China has said about wanting to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea, in mid November, China Coast Guard vessels prevented two Philippine Navy ships from delivering supplies to a group of Marines on Second Thomas Shoal. This can be seen as another of China's attempts to assert its claims in the South China Sea, which an arbitral tribunal ruled in 2016 were incompatible with UNCLOS for which China is a signatory. Is China not abiding by its promise?
Activists stage a protest outside the Chinese Consulate, guarded by Philippine police, on the fifth anniversary of an international arbitral court ruling invalidating Beijing's historical claims over the waters of the South China Sea, in Makati City, Philippines, 12 July 2021. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

While preserving good relations with China, the Philippines must exercise its maritime rights

Since taking office in 2016, Philippine President Duterte has downplayed the South China Sea Arbitration Award in the hope of gaining China’s infrastructure and financial offerings. This hope has so far remained largely unfulfilled. Despite Duterte's stance, various departments in the Philippine government have referenced the Award in defence of the Philippines' legal rights and jurisdiction in its maritime zones. Philippine academic Jay L. Batongbacal says that this and negative public opinion of Duterte’s China policy means that the Award continues to serve as a bedrock for the Philippines to exercise its rights and to delegitimise China’s claims and bullying actions in the South China Sea.
Philippine Coast Guard personnel are seen onboard rubber boats as they sail near Chinese vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel at Whitsun Reef, South China Sea, in a handout photo distributed by the Philippine Coast guard 15 April 2021. (Philippine Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)

Philippine-US cooperation on Whitsun Reef: A 'win' for the Biden team in Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asian views of the US declined during the Trump administration, and persisted into the Biden administration early on in the year. But Washington’s sustained support for Manila amid the latter’s recent confrontation with China in the South China Sea has helped to offset negative perceptions of Uncle Sam in the region.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China on 25 April 2019. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool via Reuters)

China's CPC deepens ties with Philippine political parties

Under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, party-to-party (P2P) relations have been forged and deepened between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and various Philippine political parties. Such P2P diplomacy offers China a new diplomatic channel to promote bilateral relations and complement confidence-building measures. It also enables Beijing to hedge at the sub-national level given the plurality of political bases in the Philippines. Philippine researcher Aaron Jed Rabena looks at the engagements thus far and examines how these may affect Philippine domestic politics.
A street vendor pushes her cart in the rain in Hanoi, 15 October 2020. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP)

How should Southeast Asian countries respond to an upsurge in Chinese investment

In this geostrategic climate, Southeast Asian countries should welcome rather than reject investments from China for their own developmental needs. Welcoming Chinese investment will also likely spur competing investments from the West and Japan.