Philippine leader Marcos to visit China in January

Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe
Philippine leader Marcos to visit China in January Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (left) walks with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Nov. 11, 2022.
Heng Sinith/AP

Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has accepted an invitation from Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to visit Beijing in January, in what would be Marcos’ first presidential trip to China, his office announced Friday.

The three-day state visit will happen nearly four months after Marcos visited the United States and met with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to discuss geopolitics in Southeast Asia, more specifically territorial disputes in the South China Sea. 

“President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has accepted the invitation of President Xi Jinping and the People’s Republic of China to visit China on a state visit on January 3 to 5/6,” Marcos’ office said in a statement. “The Chinese government has since confirmed that schedule for the state visit.” 

The announcement came after Marcos gave a speech at the ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh on Friday, where he called on fellow Southeast Asian leaders to adopt a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea. The issue often is discussed during yearly summits but has been slow to gain traction.

Participating nations hope that the code will settle long-festering overlapping claims in the South China Sea. The mineral-rich waterway is claimed almost in its entirety by China based on historical grounds. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, have their own territorial claims.

Marcos said the “immediate conclusion” of the code would mark the 40th year of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), according to a statement from his office. 

“It shall be an example of how states manage their differences – through reason and through right. I, therefore, welcome the progress on textual negotiations on the COC this past year and hopefully an approved code of conduct in the very near future,” Marcos said in Phnom Penh.

He noted that it remains vital for UNCLOS to be upheld as the universal framework for sea activities.

Earlier this week, Marcos expressed hope that he would be given the chance to discuss the South China Sea with Xi. He told Filipino journalists about the importance of peacefully settling their disputes, adding it would be “impossible” for him not to discuss it when they meet.

11 PH-xi.jpg
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves at an event to introduce new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Oct. 23, 2022. [Andy Wong/AP]

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled for the Philippines in a landmark decision that basically invalidated China’s vast claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has ignored the ruling.

Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, did not seek to enforce the ruling and instead sought closer ties to Xi Jinping. In exchange, China promised billions of dollars in investments and aid even as it continued to occupy parts of the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s name for its claimed territories in the South China Sea.

Duterte, who finished his six-year term as president on June 30, also pulled the Philippines away from the United States, the Philippines’ longtime ally and China’s main rival, until late in his term when he declared before the United Nations that the arbitration award was “beyond compromise.” 

Unlike Marcos, who visited New York before his planned trip to Beijing, Duterte made six visits to China and none to the U.S.

Shortly after winning the presidency in a landslide in May, Marcos pledged to protect the country’s territory and said its sovereignty would not be “trampled upon.” He made those declarations while also calling China the Philippines’ “strongest ally.” 

He also promised to talk “with a firm voice” even as he acknowledged that Manila was at a disadvantage militarily against Beijing.


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