Marcos may discuss Taiwan in US but trade tops agenda —envoy

April 25, 2023 - 4:37 PM
President of the Philippines Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. attends a news conference after the European Union (EU) and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) commemorative summit in Brussels, Belgium December 14, 2022. (Reuters/Johanna Geron/File Photo)
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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr may discuss tensions over Taiwan with U.S counterpart Joe Biden at the White House next week but the focus of talks will be on trade and investment, a top diplomat said on Tuesday.

Philippine ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez told Reuters that Marcos would prioritize economic discussions on energy, climate and trade during his first official visit to Washington on May 1.

“China, of course, is our number one trading partner,” said Romualdez, a cousin of Marcos who also held the post in the previous administration.

“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.”

He said the Philippines wanted the U.S Congress to renew its access to U.S. trade preferences for developing economies, which expired in 2020.

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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.

READ: Biden, Philippines’ Marcos discuss tensions in 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 defense of our country.”

China has accused the Philippines of stoking tensions by almost doubling the number of its bases that the U.S. military can access under their defense 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-U.S. stance. More than 17,000 Philippine and U.S. soldiers are conducting their largest ever joint military drills.

ALSO READ: Philippines, United States begin 2-week joint military Balikatan 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.

Reporting by Poppy McPherson and Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty