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Southeast Asia

Philippines: Incoming President Marcos Jr. to stand by South China Sea ruling

Print edition : Jun 25, 2022 T+T-

Philippines: Incoming President Marcos Jr. to stand by South China Sea ruling

After sweeping this month’s election with 59 per cent of the vote, Marcos will take office on June 30.

After sweeping this month’s election with 59 per cent of the vote, Marcos will take office on June 30.

The Philippines’ incoming president vowed to prevent any foreign interference in the running of his country.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the president-elect of the Philippines, said he would uphold an international ruling against China over disputed waters, vowing on May 26 to prevent any foreign interference in the running of his country. China has staked its claim over nearly all of the South China Sea’s resource-rich waters. In turn, it faces competing claims from other major stakeholders, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“There is no wiggle room there. Our sovereignty is sacred. We will not compromise it in any way,” Marcos Jr. said in his strongest comments yet on handling ties with China. “We are a sovereign nation with a functioning government. We do not need to be told by anyone how to run our own country,” he said in the interview with his new press secretary that was posted on Facebook. “There is no room for negotiation there. It is sacred, inviolable.” The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 declared that Beijing’s historical claim on the waterway was without basis, a decision that was ignored by China.

Precarious relations with China

After outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte pushed for warmer ties with China by setting aside the ruling over promises of trade and investment, critics say commitments haven’t been met. Marcos Jr., popularly known as “Bongbong,” is also expected to foster a relationship with China after promising to elevate and expand ties during a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week.

In his latest comments, however, 64-year-old Marcos Jr. said he would not “allow a single millimetre of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon”. “We have a very important ruling in our favour and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right,” Marcos Jr. said. “We’re talking about China. We talk to China consistently with a firm voice,” but adding, “We cannot go to war with them. That’s the last thing we need right now.” The pro-China stance could also complicate the Philippines’ relationship with its historical ally, the United States.

A road full of challenges

After winning more than 59 per cent of the votes in the latest election, Marcos Jr. is set to formally take office on June 30. He is the son of Ferdinand Marcos, a dictator who ruled the Philippines for 20 years before being ousted by a people’s revolt in 1986. Marcos Jr. and his running mate Sara Duterte, daughter of the incumbent president, are expected to embrace the key policies of the elder Duterte. However, the incoming president signaled that he would not adopt his predecessor’s “slightly unorthodox approach” to foreign policy.

Instead, Marcos Jr. has sought to strike a balance between China and the United States, saying: “We are a small player amongst very large giants in geopolitics. We have to ply our own way.” “I do not subscribe to the old thinking of the Cold War where we had this spheres of influence where you’re under the Soviet Union or you’re under the United States,” he said. “I think that we have to find an independent foreign policy where we are friends with everyone. It’s the only way.”

see/rs (Reuters, AFP)