Jhe rise to power of the son of Filipino dictator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. marks a significant turning point for the Southeast Asian country as it tries to strike a balance in its relationship with the United States and China .
Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s approach to foreign policy has been marked, for the most part, by hostility towards the West in general and the United States in particular. Since a 2002 bombing in Davao City – his home territory – where US agents allegedly scared off an American suspect without the approval of Philippine authorities, Duterte has spoken out against what he sees as Western interference in the affairs of the country. He also recognized China’s growing power and cultivated Beijing as a hedge against Washington. Case in point: He never pressed a 2016 UN-backed ruling invalidating China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea, where Beijing has built several man-made islands and militarized some. Instead, Duterte lightly trampled Chinese maneuvers and construction activity in the strategic waterway.
Local and international observers say Marcos Jr. will broadly follow Duterte’s approach to Beijing as part of his promise of political continuity, but with a slightly different approach. He doesn’t have “the ideological orientation and personal resentment that Duterte has toward the West as a whole,” says Richard Heydarian, a professor of political science at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
Read more: Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of a dictator, takes the lead in the presidential election in the Philippines
Marcos Jr. has his own problems with the West, however. He, his mother and his father’s estate continue to escape a 1995 US contempt ruling in a class-action human rights lawsuit against his father. Being the son of Ferdinand E. Marcos, whose 21-year reign in the Philippines gained notoriety for state-sponsored murder, corruption and kleptocracy, doesn’t help.
But those factors won’t strain ties with Washington, said Joshua Kurlantzick, senior Southeast Asia fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He points out that Duterte never visited the United States as president and was openly hostile there, but Washington continued to maintain its defense alliance with Manila.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos delivering his last address to supporters from the balcony of Malacanang Palace in Manila in February 1986 before the family was forced to flee in US helicopters following a popular uprising. His son and future leader Bongbong stands on the far right.
Alex Bowie–Getty Images
“It’s true [Marcos Jr.] faces potential arrest for contempt of court if he comes to the United States,” Kurlantzick told TIME. “But the White House could find a way to massage him, or he could come to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly, which is usually a safe zone for people who might otherwise face charges in the United States. United, and meet with US officials. ”
The United States and the Philippines established formal diplomatic relations in 1946, after American soldiers joined Philippine forces to defeat Japanese invaders during World War II. A 1951 pact obliges the two countries to support each other if attacked by an outside force. The growing rivalry between America and China and the Philippines’ location make the Southeast Asian country an invaluable ally for Washington.
A setback could come if democracy in the Philippines suffers another blow under Marcos Jr., Kurlantzick adds. But Heydarian thinks Washington has “no choice” but to engage with Manila, to distance it from Beijing and Moscow, both of which have extended their influence in the region.
Balance between China and the United States
China is the Philippines’ largest trading partner. His direct investments in the Philippines reached $17.46 million in the first half of 2021. Duterte had called for greater Chinese involvement in expensive infrastructure projects, but many of them have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19. Some Philippine economists and lawmakers are now warning that further Chinese deals would expose the country to more expensive loans.
Kurlantzick says any hard pivot to Beijing will also be difficult for Marcos domestically. The new Philippine president will be limited by negative public opinion against China, a traditionally pro-American security establishment, and Duterte’s recent warm-up to Washington.
Lucio Pitlo III, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, said Beijing was wary of joint US-Philippine military exercises and was reluctant to advance large investments in the Philippines due to security concerns. Marcos Jr. will have to tread carefully between the two powerhouses to take advantage of relationships with each without upsetting the other. US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping congratulated Marcos Jr. on his victory, stressing the importance of maintaining cooperation on both fronts.
“The United States and China will remain important partners for the Philippines, economically and security-wise,” Pitlo told TIME. “Of course, like any country in Southeast Asia, we should avoid choosing between the two because these two powers can do for us the things we need.”
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