Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr is keen to bolster economic ties on energy, climate and trade on his first official visit to Washington, which starts on Monday.
Philippine ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said Marcos may discuss tensions over Taiwan with his counterpart Joe Biden at the White House, but the focus of talks would be trade and investment.
Romualdez, a cousin of Marcos who also held the post in the previous administration, said the Philippines wanted Congress to renew its access to US trade preferences for developing economies, which expired in 2020.
“China, of course, is our number one trading partner,” he said. “Japan is also a trading partner. And so the United States is one of those countries that we would like to be able to have more trade.”
The talks will be the latest in a series of high-level meetings the Philippines has held with leaders of the United States and China, which are jostling for strategic advantage in the region.
Rising Tension over South China Sea
Marcos met China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing in January and the foreign minister last week. He may or may not discuss Taiwan with Biden, Romualdez said, but is focused on avoiding conflict.
“On a clear day, from the northermost part of the country, you can see Taiwan,” he said. “So that’s how close it is.
“Obviously it will affect us… If anything happens in Taiwan, everybody will be affected, most especially in the ASEAN (Southeast Asia) region, but the whole world.”
He said the Philippines did not want China to “feel that we are out on an offensive because of our relationship with the United States… Everything that we’re doing is purely for the defence of our country.”
China has accused the Philippines of stoking tensions by almost doubling the number of its bases that the US military can access under their defence agreement. Some of those bases face north towards Taiwan.
The treaty allies have enjoyed warmer ties since Marcos took office last June, reversing his predecessor’s anti-US stance. More than 17,000 Philippine and US soldiers are conducting their largest ever joint military drills.
Concerns are also rising about a military buildup by Beijing in the South China Sea.
Marcos said on Monday he would press Biden to make clear the extent of Washington’s commitment to protect the Philippines under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, citing the “heating up” of regional tensions.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard