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Marcos, Xi to discuss trade and security issues

PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday said he aims to boost cooperation with China on agriculture, trade and industry, energy and regional security issues when he meets with his Chinese counterpart during his three-day state visit.

“I look forward to discussing regional security issues and problems that do not belong to two friends like China and the Philippines and harness trade and investment relations as we accelerate our post-pandemic growth,” he said in a departure speech streamed live on Facebook.

Mr. Marcos, who took office in June, earlier said the country would be a “friend to all” and “an enemy to none.” His state visit on Jan. 3 to 5 is his first this year and the first outside Southeast Asia.

Private sector representatives will accompany him during the meetings as his government aims to secure 10 bilateral agreements with China, Mr. Marcos said.

“I hope to return home to the Philippines with a harvest of agreements and investments that will benefit our countrymen and further strengthen the foundation of our economic environment,” he added.

In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Mr. Marcos in Bangkok, where they agreed to stick to “friendly consultation” when dealing with the South China Sea dispute, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement on Nov. 17.

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel allegedly took by force rocket debris that was being towed by a Philippine Navy ship in the disputed waters that month.

Mr. Marcos earlier said his visit to China could be a way to avoid more incidents in the South China Sea.

China claims more than 80% of the sea, which is believed to contain substantial oil and gas deposits and through which billions of dollars in trade passes each year. It has ignored a 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed arbitration court that voided its claim based on a 1940s map.

During his state visit, the Philippines and China would sign an accord that aims “to avoid miscalculation and miscommunication in the West Philippine Sea,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Nathaniel G. Imperial said last week, referring to areas of the sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The agreement, which will be signed by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Enrique A. Manalo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, would establish direct communication between their offices at various levels, he added.

A group of Filipino-Chinese businessmen and some economists last week said the public should expect more partnerships with China in trade, tourism, agriculture, public housing and security after the state visit.

Some critics view the meeting between Mr. Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping with skepticism, citing China’s failure to deliver on its investment promises to ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“It is hard for me to see any direct benefits from the China trip of President Marcos given the failed promises and unfulfilled commitments of President Xi and his government to then President Duterte worth $26 billion of projects and investments,” Victor Andres C. Manhit, president of local think tank Stratbase ADR, said in a Messenger chat.

“Obviously, it will be hard to see any immediate gains from the visit,” said Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a policy analyst. “But the fact is, the visit can be an opportunity for the administration to show its resolve to defend our territorial sovereignty not just to China but to other nations keenly watching the state visit.”

In July, the Transportation department said the Philippines had scrapped its loan applications with state-owned China Eximbank for three multibillion-peso railway projects undertaken under the previous government.

Foreign policy experts this week said the Marcos-Xi meeting would set the tone of relations between the two countries against the backdrop of their sea dispute.

His state visit would also determine whether China is committed to repairing its damaged relations with the Southeast Asian nation, they said.

“Aside from sharing the wonders of our archipelago with our Chinese friends, strengthened people-to-people exchanges will allow us to bridge gaps in understanding between the two countries at all levels,” Mr. Marcos said in his departure speech. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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