PRESIDENT FERDINAND MARCOS JR of the Philippines has wrapped up a three-day state visit to China.
An agreement was reached during the visit to restart negotiations over joint oil and gas development in non-disputed areas of the South China Sea, although not much is likely to come of it. Likewise, the hotline set up to avert dangerous incidents in disputed areas will likely prove of limited value.
In recent years, existing communication channels failed to prevent significant confrontations at Reed Bank, Whitsun Bank and Iroquois Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.
The Philippines has also raised concerns over reportedly new Chinese land reclamation and construction work in the Spratlys and over what it called the ‘swarming’ of Chinese vessels in disputed waters claimed by the Philippines.
The Philippine navy believes Chinese ships manned by militias have been at the Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal for almost a year.
Away from the thorny defence and security issues, Marcos Jr’s office said he secured USD22.8bn in new investment pledges from China, including USD13.76bn in renewable energy, USD7.32bn in electric vehicles and mineral processing, and USD1.72bn in agriculture.
Precedent suggests that investment promises should be treated with similar scepticism to statements of progress over maritime disputes.
Marcos Jr differs from his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, in pursuing balanced relations between Beijing and Washington rather than tilting towards Beijing.
However, with Marcos Jr facing growing domestic public pressure to shore up defence ties with Washington to defend its South China Sea interests, Beijing is offering carrots, more than wielding this stick to prevent Marcos from turning more to Washington.
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