MANILA: The United States and China have congratulated Ferdinand Marcos Jr on his win in the Philippine presidential election, as the rival superpowers seek stronger ties with the country in the face of regional tensions.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, secured more than half of the votes in Monday’s poll to win the presidency by a wide margin and cap a remarkable comeback for his family.
He and running mate Sara Duterte, who also won the vice presidential race in a landslide, have embraced key policies of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, including his position on China.
The elder Duterte sought to pivot away from the United States, the Philippines’ former colonial master, towards China since taking power in 2016.
He has appeared reluctant to confront Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
In a phone call Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Marcos the two countries had been “partners through thick an thin”, Chinese state television reported Thursday.
“I attach great importance to the development of China-Philippines relations and am willing to establish a good working relationship with President-elect Marcos, adhere to good neighborliness and friendship,” Xi said.
‘Engagement’ with China
The United States said it will seek close security ties with the Philippines under Marcos, but made clear it would raise human rights.
In a phone call, US President Joe Biden congratulated Marcos and said he wanted to expand cooperation on a range of issues, including climate change and “respect for human rights”.
Under Duterte, Manila’s previously frosty relations with Beijing warmed as the authoritarian firebrand set aside an international ruling on the South China Sea in exchange for promises of trade and investment.
China claims almost the entirety of the waterway and has ignored the 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that its historical claim is without basis.
It has reinforced its stance by building artificial islands over some contested reefs and installing weapons on them.
Ahead of the elections, Marcos said he would seek “engagement” with China rather than confrontation over their rival claims in the South China Sea.
“We won’t solve our problem with China if we fight them,” Marcos said in February.
“President Duterte’s engagement approach is correct because in my opinion that is the only way to resolving our conflicting claims with China.”
But Duterte has faced domestic pressure to take a harder line on China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and in the past year insisted his country’s sovereignty over the waters is not negotiable.
In July, Duterte walked back on a decision to ax a key military deal — the Visiting Forces Agreement — with the United States during a visit by Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.