Biden, Marcos set to meet as tensions grow with China

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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. waves beside a U.S. M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during a Combined Joint Littoral Live Fire Exercise at the joint military exercise called "Balikatan," Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder in a Naval station in Zambales province, northern Philippines on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. The long-time treaty allies are holding their largest joint military exercises that are part of a show of American firepower that has alarmed China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

WASHINGTONPresident Joe Biden is set to host President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines for White House talks Monday as concerns grow about the Chinese navy's harassment of Philippine vessels in the South China Sea.

Marcos' visit to Washington comes after the U.S. and Philippines last week completed their largest war drills ever and as the two countries' air forces on Monday will hold their first joint fighter jet training in the Philippines since 1990. The Philippines this year agreed to give the U.S. access to four more bases on the islands as the U.S. looks to deter China’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.

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Meanwhile, China has angered the Philippines by repeatedly harassing its navy and coast guard patrols and chasing away fishermen in waters close to Philippine shores but which Beijing claims as its own.

Before departing for Washington on Sunday, Macros said he was “determined to forge an ever stronger relationship with the United States in a wide range of areas that not only address the concerns of our times, but also those that are critical to advancing our core interests.”

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

The U.S. president hosted South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for a state visit last week in which the two leaders introduced new steps aimed at deterring North Korea from launching an attack on neighbors. Biden is scheduled to travel to Japan and Australia in May.

The two sides are expected to discuss the security situation and come out with new economic, education, climate and other initiatives as part of Marcos’ four-day visit to Washington, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the visit, said Biden administration officials are looking to redevelop “habits of alliance building” with the Philippines as aspects of the historically complicated relationship have “atrophied” over the years.

Increased Chinese harassment of vessels in the South China Sea have added another dimension to the visit. On April 23, journalists from AP and other outlets were aboard the Philippine coast guard’s BRP Malapascua near Second Thomas Shoal when a Chinese coast guard ship blocked the Philippine patrol vessel steaming into the disputed shoal. The Philippines has filed more than 200 diplomatic protests against China since last year, at least 77 since Marcos took office in June.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Saturday called media reporting on the encounters a “stark reminder” of Chinese “harassment and intimidation of Philippine vessels as they undertake routine patrols within their exclusive economic zone. We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct.”

Close U.S.-Philippines relations were not a given when Marcos took office. The son and namesake of the late Philippines strongman had seemed intent on following the path of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who pursued closer ties with China.

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 Marcos Jr. It was an oblique reference to long-standing litigation in the United States against the estate of his father, Ferdinand Marcos.

A U.S. appeals court in 1996 upheld damages of about $2 billion against the elder Marcos’ estate for the torture and killings of thousands of Filipinos. The court upheld a 1994 verdict of a jury in Hawaii, where he fled after being forced from power in 1986. He died there in 1989.

Biden and Macros met in September during the U.N. General Assembly, where the U.S. president acknowledged the two countries' sometimes “rocky” past.

During their private meeting, Biden stressed to Marcos his desire to improve relations and asked Marcos how the administration could “fulfill your dreams and hopes" for that, according to the senior administration official.

Marcos is also slated to visit the Pentagon, meet Cabinet members and business leaders and make remarks at a Washington think-tank during the visit.


Gomez reported from Manila.

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