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New Philippine President Marcos Is No Duterte on Foreign Policy

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10.05.2022

Monday’s all-but-official election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to become the next president of the Philippines will hold significant implications for Manila’s foreign policy. Marcos, known as Bongbong, is likely to be influenced by the policies of both his father, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, yielding a new government interested in engaging China while keeping the United States close by. Marcos has consistently lauded his father’s achievements, one of which was maintaining a strong security alliance with Washington in spite of bilateral frictions, and he is politically aligned with Duterte, who sought to pivot away from the United States to China. Thus, over his term of six years, Washington should expect a kind of Duterte-light leader who is China friendly but who does not have the expressed intent, as Duterte did, of dismantling the Philippine-U.S. alliance. Indeed, he might even bolster it if Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea continues to rise.

Because Marcos refused to participate in most presidential debates during the campaign and did not release any official foreign-policy statements, analysts have largely been forced to read the tea leaves to determine his exact position. He did, however, participate in one major debate and a few media interviews this year that covered foreign policy at length. On these occasions, Marcos’s responses to questions on Philippine foreign policy offer the clearest sense of what he will look to achieve on foreign policy when he takes over from Duterte on June 30.

At the very highest level, Marcos, like every Philippine leader, seeks to maintain his country’s national interests regardless of deepening U.S.-Chinese competition. During the debate, he said: “No matter what the superpowers are trying to do, we have to work within the interest of the Philippines. We cannot allow ourselves to be part of the foreign policy of other countries. We have to have our own foreign policy.” This statement suggests that he envisions Manila as neither wedded to the alliance with Washington nor forging a new partnership with Beijing. Rather, he wants to steer a middle path to navigate intensifying great-power competition. By contrast, Duterte, on his first trip to China not long after his election, famously announced it was “time to say goodbye” to Washington. Despite his political alignment with Duterte, Marcos probably won’t be choosing a side.

Monday’s all-but-official election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to become the next president of the Philippines will hold significant implications for Manila’s foreign policy. Marcos, known as Bongbong, is likely to be influenced by the policies of both his father, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, yielding a new........

© Foreign Policy


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