Biden: American-Filipino partners in the midst of Chinese tension

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden He reiterated the United States’ commitment to the security of the Philippines and noted the “deep friendship” between the two countries as Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hosted White House talks on Monday as concerns grew over Chinese navy harassment of Philippine vessels. in the South China Sea.

Marcos’ visit to Washington comes after the United States and the Philippines last week completed their biggest war games On Monday, the two countries’ air forces will conduct their first joint combat aircraft exercise in the Philippines since 1990. This year, the Philippines agreed to grant the United States access to four more bases on the islands. The United States is looking to deter China’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.

Meanwhile, China has angered the Philippines with repeated harassment Its navy and coast guard patrol and hunt down fishermen in the waters off the coast of the Philippines, but Beijing claims it as its own.

But as Biden sat down with Marcos, the US president did his best to note progress in the US-Philippines relationship — one that has had its ups and downs over the years and was in a difficult place when Marcos took office less than a year ago.

“We are facing new challenges and I can’t think of a better partner than you.” Biden told Marcus at the start of the Oval Office meeting. “The United States also remains firm in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea, and we will continue to support the military modernization of the Philippines.”

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Marcos said the relationship was necessary because the Philippines and the Pacific Ocean find themselves in “perhaps the most complex geopolitical situation in the world right now.”

Monday’s Oval Office meeting is the latest high-level diplomacy with Pacific leaders by Biden as his administration grapples with increased military and economic assertiveness by China and concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program. Marcos’ official visit to Washington is the first by a Philippine president in more than 10 years.

Last week, the US president hosted South Korean President Yoon Sok-yul for a state visit during which the two leaders presented new steps aimed at deterring North Korea. attacking its neighbors. Biden is scheduled to travel to Japan and Australia in May.

After the meeting, the White House announced the transfer of three C-130s and two Coast Guard ships to the Philippines. The two countries also said they have adopted defense guidelines aimed at deepening cooperation and interoperability between the two countries’ militaries across land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.

The administration also said it is launching a new business mission focused on increasing American investment in the Philippines’ innovation economy, new educational programs and more.

Increased Chinese harassment of ships in the South China Sea added another dimension to the visit. On April 23, journalists from the Associated Press and other outlets were aboard the Philippine Coast Guard BRP Malapascua near the Thomas Shoal II when a Chinese coast guard vessel blocked the Philippine patrol vessel. Steamed in disputed shallow waters. The Philippines has filed more than 200 diplomatic protests against China since last year, at least 77 since Marcos took office in June.

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State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on Saturday called media reports of the encounters a “stark reminder” of “Chinese harassment and intimidation of Philippine vessels as they routinely patrol within its exclusive economic zone.”

“We call on Beijing to cease its provocative and unsafe behaviour,” Miller said.

US and Taiwanese officials have also been alarmed by recent critical comments by China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Shilian, about the Philippines giving the US military more access to bases.

Huang reportedly said at a forum in April that the Philippines should oppose Taiwan independence “if you genuinely care about the 150,000 OFWs” in Taiwan, using the acronym for OFW.

China claims the self-governing island as its own. The Philippines, like the United States, has a “one China” policy that recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows for informal relations with Taiwan. Marcos did not explicitly say that his country would assist the United States in any armed emergency in Taiwan.

The officials described Huang’s remarks as one of many recent Chinese acts of provocation to pressure the Philippines.

Marcos still wants to work closely with both Washington and Beijing, said one of the officials, but “finds himself in a situation” where “the steps China is taking are very troubling.”

Close relations between the United States and the Philippines were not taken for granted when Marcos took office. The son of the late Filipino strongman of the same name seemed intent on following the path of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who sought closer ties with China.

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Before Marcos took office last year, Kurt Campbell, coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the White House National Security Council, acknowledged that “historical considerations” Could present “challenges” to the relationship with Marcus Jr. It was an indirect reference to a long-running lawsuit in the United States against the estate of his father, Ferdinand Marcos.

In 1996 a US appeals court upheld damages of nearly $2 billion against Father Marcos’ estate for the torture and murder of thousands of Filipinos. The court upheld a 1994 verdict by a jury in Hawaii, where he fled after being forced from power in 1986. He died there in 1989.

Marcus noted that he last visited the White House when his father was in power.

Biden and Marcos met in September during the United Nations General Assembly, with the US president acknowledging the two countries’ sometimes “rocky” pasts..

During their private meeting at the United Nations, Biden, a Democrat, assured Marcos of his desire to improve relations and asked Marcos how the administration could “fulfill your dreams and hopes” to do so, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

Marcos is scheduled to visit the Pentagon, meet Cabinet members and business leaders, and make remarks at a think tank in Washington during his visit.

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Gomez reported from Manila. Author Darlene Superville contributed reporting.

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