US Vice-President Kamala Harris arrived in the Philippines on Sunday for talks aimed at reviving ties with the former US colony, an Asian ally that is central to US efforts to counter China’s increasingly assertive policies towards Taiwan.
Harris, who will meet President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, visits the region as the Biden administration seeks to shore up relations with allies worried about growing Chinese influence in Southeast Asia and possible conflict over Taiwan, the self-governing island China regards as its own. The Philippines is an important part of this diplomatic push. Military access to the country, just 193km from Taiwan and adjacent to the South China Sea, would greatly complicate any attempt by China to invade Taiwan, according to military analysts.
In Marcos, son and namesake of the Philippines’ onetime dictator, President Joe Biden and his national security aides see a strategic and strong ally for its top foreign policy challenge — competition with China — according to administration officials.
Earlier, Harris said she had told China’s President Xi Jinping, whom she met on Saturday at the APEC summit in Thailand, that Washington did not seek confrontation. ”We welcome competition but we do not see conflict, we do not seek confrontation,” Harris told a news conference in Bangkok before leaving for Manila. Her visit will be the highest-level trip to the Philippines by an administration official and marks a sharp turnaround in relations.
Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, frustrated Washington with a strongman approach and perceived closeness to Beijing. With Marcos in office, the Biden administration is attempting a reset. Biden called Marcos the night after his victory was announced, largely avoiding thorny issues, to send a congratulatory message, according to a person familiar with the call.