China looks to boost ties with Philippines ahead of Biden inauguration

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be looking to reinforce Beijing’s ties with Manila during a two-day visit to the Philippines this week, observers say.His trip comes just a week ahead of the inauguration of US president-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to breath new life into Washington’s Asia policy.Wang is set to arrive in the Philippines on Friday as part of a week-long trip to Southeast Asia that also included stops in Myanmar and Indonesia. He is expected to meet Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr during his stay in the country.

According to a statement by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the officials will discuss “ways to accelerate mutually beneficial cooperation” in areas such as trade, investment, infrastructure development and coronavirus response.

Wang’s visit showed the two countries’ commitment to “sustained high-level engagement” and gradually reopening their economies after the pandemic, it said.

The trip comes at a time of intense competition between China and the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, where both powers regard the Philippines as a key player.Biden, who will take office next week, has already indicated the emphasis he places on the region with his choice of veteran diplomat Kurt Campbell for the newly created role of Asia tsar.

Chinese foreign policy experts say it is important for Beijing to consolidate its ties with Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines before Biden makes his moves.“Biden is likely to reinvigorate the US’ alliance with the Philippines, just as Obama encouraged the Philippines and Vietnam to challenge China on the South China Sea,” said Su Hao, a professor in the diplomacy department at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.

“The US has always sought to weaken China’s influence in Southeast Asia through the US-Philippines alliance. So China is working to prevent a situation like this from happening again,” he said.

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague upheld the Philippines’ challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims to almost all of the South China Sea, but Beijing has never accepted the ruling.Since then, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has distanced his country from the US and pivoted to China in exchange for investment, though that policy could change after he leaves office next year.

Duterte has come under fire recently over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution. The Philippines is also expected to suffer the worst growth decline in the world over the next five years, according to a forecast by the International Monetary Fund.

Su said China would need to provide some support to the Philippines on vaccine and pandemic relief efforts.

Zhang Mingliang, an expert on Southeast Asian affairs at Jinan University in Guangdong, said: “With the transition of power in the US, there could be changes in the US’ policy towards the Philippines.

“Even though Duterte has publicly criticised the US over the last few years, the US-Philippines alliance has never truly been disrupted. And the voices of hawkish elements in the Philippines will become more prominent as the Philippines enters the election season.”

Source: South China Morning Post – China looks to boost ties with Philippines ahead of Biden inauguration

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