President Joe Biden greets Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the South Portico of the White House on Monday. The two leaders met to reaffirm U.S. defense commitments in Southeast Asia and discuss ways to shore up their expanding military alliance. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
May 1 (UPI) — President Joe Biden met with Philippines President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Monday at the White House, where the two leaders reaffirmed U.S. defense commitments in Southeast Asia and discussed ways to shore up their expanding military alliance amid increasing threats from China against Taiwan.
Marcos’ four-day visit to the United States follows the largest joint military exercise between both countries in April and a deal, signed in February, that would allow the United States to increase its military presence in Southeast Asia.
Biden welcomed Marcos back to the White House, reminding him that he had visited with his father, the former president of the Philippines, in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president.
During their meeting Monday, Biden and Marcos announced a number of new initiatives to expand the U.S.-Philippines alliance, which dates back to 1951 when the two countries signed the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“The United States remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea, and we’re going to continue to support the Philippines’ military modernization goals,” Biden said Monday.
Among the new arrangements announced Monday is the adoption of Bilateral Defense Guidelines to share cooperation across land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. President Biden revealed plans to dispatch a Presidential Trade and Investment Mission to the Philippines. And the two leaders announced the launch of an Open RAN 5G interoperability lab in Manila, along with the establishment of a bilateral Labor Working Group.
“This relationship has to continue to evolve,” Biden added. “And together, we’re tackling climate change, we’re accelerating our countries’ transition to clean energy and we’re standing up for our shared democratic values and workers’ rights and the rule of law.”
“There are also the issues — geopolitical issues that have made the region where the Philippines is possibly, arguably the most complicated geopolitical situation in — in the world right now,” Marcos said.
“And so, it is only natural that — for the Philippines to look to its sole treaty partner in the world to strengthen and to redefine the relationship that we have and the roles that we play in the face of those rising tensions that we see now around the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions,” Marcos added.
Both Biden and Marcos voiced their commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. They affirmed the importance of maintaining peace across the Taiwan Strait and they conveyed their support for Ukraine’s independence.
Administration officials billed the meeting as “extremely significant,” calling it the first high-level summit between the leaders of the two nations in many decades.
President Marcos and his entourage arrived in Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon with a series of meetings planned throughout the week.
During Monday’s meeting, Biden and Marcos discussed ways to improve economic cooperation through clean energy initiatives and cultural and humanitarian connections but mainly focused on efforts to deter China amid increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.
The meeting comes days after the United States and the Philippines completed their largest-ever joint military exercise that was intended to demonstrate a growing partnership that would stand up to an increasingly assertive leadership in Beijing, which has threatened to take disputed territory throughout the South China Sea.
The United States was also seeking to bolster relations with other regional partners, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida who established a new security strategy with Biden at the White House in January, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, whose sit-down with Biden last week resulted in an agreement to dock U.S. nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea for the first time in more than 40 years.
Next month, Biden plans to attend the G7 in Japan, where he will follow up with both Yoon and Kishida before heading off to Australia for a broader meeting with the leaders of Australia, India, and Japan on the subject of China and maritime security.
The U.S. and the Philippines established a critical alliance during the Vietnam War, but relations turned lukewarm in the decades that followed.
Now, though, a senior administration official told reporters during a Monday teleconference to set up Marcos’ visit that “recent events have caused much greater focus in both capitals on taking the necessary step to up our game, to improve engagement on the security side between the United States and the Philippines.”
“The Philippines is also engaging actively with Japan and other countries in the Indo-Pacific, given their changing circumstances,” the official said.
White House officials pointed to a series of recent Chinese provocations, including encroachment into the Philippines’ territorial waters.
They also called attention to a speech last week by the Chinese ambassador to Manila who warned of the “changing circumstances in the Indo-Pacific” while suggesting that the safety of nearly 200,000 Filipinos living in Taiwan was at risk.
In March, Chinese President Xi Jinping opened his third term with a defiant speech that vowed to strengthen the military and take steps toward “reunification” with Taiwan after decades of tensions with the U.S. over the sovereignty of the small island.
Marcos previously indicated that he was growing deeply concerned over China’s continued belligerence which has led him to seek increased backup from the United States, officials said.
“I think the visit … is meant in many respects to diversify what we think are very important initial security engagements of the last several months. And you will see the president here not only focusing on security commitments and other things that the United States is prepared to do with the Philippines, but we will launch a number of initiatives on the commercial side,” the official said.
U.S. engagement with the Phillippines has increased significantly during Biden’s term.
Biden was the first world leader to call and congratulate Marcos when he was elected president of the Philippines in May 2022. The following month, the administration sent a delegation of U.S. officials to the inauguration, which was led by Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.
That was followed by a visit to Manila by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in early August, plus a brief conference between Biden and Marcos on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last year.
In September, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Manila and then to the disputed island of Palawan for meetings in November. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also went to Manila in late January while holding meetings with his counterparts in Washington.
On Monday, Marcos thanked Biden for his commitment and for the Philippines’ 72-year alliance with the United States.
“I welcome very much the opportunity to come here, to visit with you at the White House and to discuss these terribly important issues,” Marcos said.