As concerns grow about the Chinese navy’s harassment of Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, President Biden is set to host President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines for White House talks on Monday.
Mr. Marcos’s trip comes days after the U.S. and Philippine militaries held joint exercises aimed at curbing China’s influence in the South China Sea and strengthening the United States’ ability to defend Taiwan if China invades. These exercises became a part of a rapid and intensifying effort between the two countries to expand the United States’ military presence. The Philippines also agreed to give the U.S. access to four more bases on the islands this year.
The strategic importance of the Philippines is a matter of proximity. Its northernmost island of Itbayat is less than 100 miles from Taiwan, and an increased U.S. military presence could allow for a quick troop response in a war with China.
Before departing for Washington on Sunday, Marcos 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.”
For the United States, Mr. Marcos is an eager but untested partner. However, U.S. officials are hopeful that the fragile Marcos-Duterte accord is strong enough to withstand pressure domestically but also from Beijing, which has warned the Filipino government to “properly handle issues” related to Taiwan and the South China Sea. Administration officials have even billed the meeting as “extremely significant,” calling it the first high-level summit between the leaders of the two nations in many decades.
“During this visit, we will reaffirm our commitment to fostering our longstanding alliance as an instrument of peace and as catalyst of development in the Asia-Pacific region, and for that matter for the rest of the world,” Mr. Marcos said before departing for the four-day trip to Washington.
In the Oval Office meeting, Biden and Marcos are set to discuss ways to improve economic cooperation through clean energy initiatives and cultural and humanitarian connections, but will mainly focus on efforts to deter China amid increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.
Marcos is also slated to visit the Pentagon, meet Cabinet members and business leaders, and make remarks at a Washington think-tank during this week’s visit.