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Marcos to gain from better ties with China

By Jia Duqiang | China Daily | Updated: 2022-05-14 08:14

Ferdinand Marcos Jr casts his vote in the 2022 national elections at Mariano Marcos Memorial Elementary School, in Batac, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, May 9, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos's landslide victory in the Philippine presidential election on Monday has drawn global attention because it will decide the country's future policy direction, and have an impact on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional situation. The president-elect is the namesake and son of former president Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos.

Marcos Jr.'s running mate, Sara Duterte, the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, won the vice-presidential race. The Philippine vice-president is elected separately from the president.

Three major features mark Marcos Jr.'s election. First, the country's overall situation was relatively peaceful, although more than 100,000 security forces were deployed to maintain order during the elections. Second, since Marcos Jr. had maintained a big lead in the presidential poll, his election was expected. And third, although Marcos Jr. has given few clues about his policy agenda, he is expected to follow his predecessor's policy.

As for the challenges facing the new government, the biggest one is improving people's livelihoods. During the election campaign, Marcos Jr. pledged to create more jobs, reduce rice prices and invest more in agriculture, and Sara Duterte, whose campaign slogan was,"Honest government, a better life for all", vowed to tackle corruption.

The Philippines is facing many challenges despite its economy being on the path of recovery. The country's GDP growth rate increased from-9.57 percent in 2020 to 5.7 percent last year. But the economy is yet to return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

According to global ratings agency Moody's, the Philippine economy is projected to grow by 6.1 percent this year, slower than the government's target of 7-9 percent. However, even if its GDP grows at the current rate in the future, it will be difficult for the government to reduce the pandemic-induced debt.

Poverty and unemployment have always been major obstacles to the country's economic development. Now, high inflation-rising oil, gas and food prices-due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict has increased the already heavy burden on poor households in the country.

Philippine government data show the poverty rate declined from 23.3 percent in 2015 to 16.6 percent in 2020, which means about 17.6 million people still live in poverty.

More important, the victory of Marcos Jr. means the return of the Marcos family to power after more than three decades. But while his family background may have helped him win the presidential election, he will continue to face political attacks from the opposition. And although his campaign slogan was "Together we shall rise again" and he promised unity during the presidential campaign, it will be difficult for Marcos Jr. to build a united and stable government.

However, Marcos Jr. is expected to pursue closer ties with China, by adhering to his predecessor's policy, for he opposes military conflict in the South China Sea. In fact, in an interview in January, he said Rodrigo Duterte's policy of diplomatic engagement with China is "really our only option".

For years, the Philippine government, keeping in mind the public's wishes and the country's interest, has strived to develop close ties with China. And most people in the Philippines want their government to establish friendly relations with China because trade with China and Chinese investments can help them revive the economy and improve livelihoods.

Yet the new government is not likely to change the country's special relationship with the United States. It may try to balance its relations with the US and China, though.

Beijing-Manila relations have been at an all-time high, and the two sides have established closer economic and trade cooperation thanks to their complementary economies. China has a comparative advantage in funding and investments, and technology, infrastructure and digital economy sectors, while the Philippines enjoys comparative advantage in agriculture and tourism.

As such, they should use their comparative advantages for their mutual benefit, especially because China is the Philippines' top trading partner and source of imports, the third-largest export market and second-largest foreign investor.

After the two countries sealed the Six-Year Development Program for Trade and Economic Cooperation (2017-22), bilateral trade boomed despite the pandemic outbreak. Sino-Philippine trade rose from $61.15 billion in 2020 to $82.05 billion in 2021-it reached $18.1 billion in the first quarter of this year, up 9.5 percent year-on-year.

Besides, China's Belt and Road Initiative and the Rodrigo Duterte administration's "Build, Build, Build" strategy are complementary, and the two sides are promoting about 40 government-to-government cooperation projects, 16 of which have been completed.

Also, China has increased investments in the Philippines in recent years, with its non-financial direct investment in 2021 reaching $150 million.

The two countries have also joined hands to contain the pandemic, with China extending every possible help, including medical supplies, to the Philippines. In fact, China is the only country to send a team of medical experts to the Philippines.

China is also the first country to issue special permits for Philippine military aircraft and vessels to land and dock in China for transportation of medical supplies, and China's Sinovac was the first COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in the Philippines, through both donation and commercial procurement.

By the end of last year, China had provided the Philippines with more than 57 million doses of vaccines, which accounted for over 40 percent of the latter's vaccine stock. Needless to say, China's material support has played an important role in boosting the Philippines' fight against the novel coronavirus.

The two sides are also working together to develop vaccines and medicines to treat COVID-19, and improve the public health system. This means they can only benefit further by strengthening their friendship.

In short, the two sides need to deepen and widen their mutually beneficial cooperation despite their differences, so they can improve the living standards of their peoples, and continue to contribute to regional peace, stability and prosperity.

The author is an associate professor at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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