Manila Standard : Marcos sets independent foreign policy: friends to all, enemy to none

By Rey E. Requejo | Manila Standard

President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Thursday laid down the foreign policy of his incoming administration, vowing the country’s direction would be independent as “a friend to everyone and an enemy to no one.”

“I think we have to find an independent foreign policy where we are friends with everyone, that’s the only way. We have to be good neighbors and we asked them to be good neighbors to us as well. It is of mutual benefit to us,” he said in a press conference.

The president-elect indicated he would seek to strike a balance between China and the United States, which are vying to have the closest ties with his administration.

“We are a small player amongst very large giants in geopolitics. We have to ply our own way,” he said.

“I do not subscribe to the old thinking of the Cold War where we had these spheres of influence where you’re under the Soviet Union or you’re under the United States,” he said.

Specifically, Marcos confirmed he would uphold an international ruling against Beijing over the disputed South China Sea, insisting he would not let China trample on Manila’s maritime rights.In his strongest comments yet on the longstanding source of tensions between the two nations, Marcos said he would not “allow a single millimeter of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon.”

“We have a very important ruling in our favour and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right,” he said.

“We’re talking about China. We talk to China consistently with a firm voice.”

But he added: “We cannot go to war with them. That’s the last thing we need right now.”

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte fostered warmer ties with his more powerful neighbour by setting aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment, which critics say have not materialized.

Former Ambassador Albert Del Rosario, who played a role in earning the United Nations court’s nod in favor of the Philippines, thanked Marcos for declaring his stand.

“We are deeply thankful that President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. declared what Filipinos would like to hear: that the 2016 Arbitral Ruling is not a claim but already a right,” Del Rosario said in a statement.

With the ongoing territorial dispute over the islands in the West Philippine Sea, Marcos said having better relations with all nations would be more judicious, as the countries involved are the Philippines’ closest neighbors.

He cited that China, at its closest part, is only 600 kilometers away from his home province, Ilocos Norte.

But Marcos signaled that on foreign policy, he would not adopt the “slightly unorthodox approach” of Duterte, who rattled diplomats with his firebrand rhetoric and mercurial nature.

The incoming president pointed out the importance of forging partnerships with the countries, especially with those in the region and not allowing the territorial dispute to fester and escalate into a severe problem, as the West Philippine Sea is a critical part of trade routes for shipping in the region.

“The partnerships that we make within the region, with ASEAN, are going to be of critical importance. And that’s why we have to forge partnerships,” he said.

“It will be the partnerships that will keep things stable,” he added.

Marcos assured the Philippines will deal with conflicts diplomatically.

“We continue to discuss with them the conflicting claims that we have with China and that China has with other ASEAN members. This is what I mentioned when I talked to President Xi (Jinping) when he called me to congratulate me on winning the elections,” Marcos added.

He also said that the arbitral ruling issued by the tribunal in The Hague which favored the Philippines can be used to assert the country’s territorial rights.

However, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing’s position on the international ruling had not changed.

“China is willing to continue communication and dialogue with the Philippines to appropriately handle differences, and together uphold the peace and stability of the South China Sea region,” Wang said.

Beijing has ignored the 2016 decision by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that declared its historical claim to be without basis.

China claims almost all of the resource-rich waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, with competing claims from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Del Rosario added: “War has never been an option for the Philippines as war is outlawed by our Constitution and international law. However, the President, as chief protector of our national territory, has various ways to fulfil his sacred duty to the Filipino people.”

Among these, Del Rosario said, are: consistently raising the Award at the United Nations General Assembly and other international fora; consolidating the support of other countries which believe in the Arbitral Ruling and the Rule of Law; making China accountable “for the environmental crimes it committed” in the West Philippine Sea; and building a minimum credible defense posture “to protect our national territory.”