Chinese FM Qin Gang’s Philippine trip eyes cooperation, regional issues amid US interference, hopes to avoid fluctuations in ties
Avoid becoming US pawn serves Manila’s best interests
Published: Apr 20, 2023 10:50 PM
China Philippines photo:VCG

China Philippines photo:VCG

There is broad space for cooperation between China and the Philippines, and it is in  the best interests of the Philippines to avoid becoming a pawn of the US against China, Chinese experts said Thursday, ahead of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang's scheduled visit to the Philippines this weekend, at the invitation of the Philippines' Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.

The visit from April 21 to 23 will see Qin's first meeting with Manalo in person, according to a statement from the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, and officials from both sides will discuss "strengthening cooperation in the fields of agriculture, trade, energy, infrastructure, and people-to-people relations, among other topics." Discussions will also be held on South China Sea-related issues.  

The Chinese Foreign Ministry had yet to announce Qin's visit as of press time. Analysts believed that the Philippines' invitation and announcement shows sincerity in terms of maintaining the healthy and steady development of bilateral ties with cooperation as the focus.  

The visit, which comes just months after Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr's state visit to China in January, also comes amid the US attempts to enhance military ties with the Philippines in order to contain China.

On April 11, the US and the Philippines started their "largest-ever" military drills, which will last until April 28. A "2+2" meeting of the defense and foreign ministers from the two sides was held on April 11 amid their live-fire drill in South China Sea waters. On April 3, the US gained access to four new military bases in the Philippines, bringing the total number to nine, with several bases close to China's island of Taiwan. 

Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday the main theme of Qin's visit is expected to be managing differences, promoting cooperation and enhancing communications on regional affairs. 

Recently, military relations between the US and the Philippines have been improving, but developing ties with the US should not come at the expense of China's core interests and China-Philippine relations, Chen said, stressing that the Philippines should avoid becoming a pawn or victim of the US in its attempt to counter China with the "Taiwan card."

China and the Philippines have a huge room for cooperation. Qin's visit shows that China still hopes the two countries can push forward the relationship along the track of cooperation and avoid big fluctuations in bilateral ties, Chen said. 

There are also some worries that the implementation of the Philippine government's foreign policy may be hampered by the pro-US opposition forces and other interest groups with different positions in addition to Washington's interference. 

At a time when the global economy is recovering from the pandemic, domestic economic recovery and social issues are a higher priority for the Philippine government than the US' military presence in the country, a Beijing-based Southeast Asian studies expert told the Global Times Thursday on condition of anonymity.  

China and the Philippines enjoy a strong foundation in economic and trade cooperation. China is a major partner of the Philippines in agricultural trade, machinery and energy, as well as marine fisheries, Chen said. 

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, China is the Philippines' largest trading partner, largest source of imports and second-largest export market. In 2022, bilateral trade between China and the Philippines reached $87.72 billion. 

It is undoubtedly in the best interests of the Philippines to continue on the path of pragmatism and avoid major upheavals in relations with China, Chen said. 

The price of becoming a pawn of the US not only entails a huge sacrifice in the economic and trade field, but also means facing pressure within ASEAN, he noted.