Calmer Waters in the South China Sea Coming Soon

Tudoran Andrei /
Tudoran Andrei /

For the better part of the last two years, things have been heating up around China.

From Russia’s attacks on Ukraine to the consistent rhetoric from North Korea towards South Korea, Japan, and the US, there has been frequent tension surrounding China. Now they are trying to broker a level of peace with the Philippines. With both economies suffering as a result of this tension and the COVID shutdown of China, they both need a reprieve.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his Philippine counterpart Ferdinand Marcos Jr met during Marcos’ visit to Beijing on January 4th. During this meeting, they agreed to “appropriately manage differences” according to a joint statement that was released on January 5th. With an “in-depth and candid” conversation about the South China Sea, they ended up coming to a realization. Both nations needed to “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability in the region.”

Both countries have been suffering greatly economically. China’s “Zero-COVID” lockdown policies which were recently reversed with little warning have cost them greatly. People in the country are not spending money as they simply do not have it. Other countries are unable to get their orders from China, with many looking elsewhere for their goods.

Meanwhile, the Philippines are losing out by not having a more stable trading partner, and they have lost a large percentage of shipping traffic due to high tensions in the South China Sea. The contested parts of the South China Sea have made many merchants fearful for their lives as they attempted to navigate the waters. As such, they have simply been refusing the loads.

Naturally, one of the other talks came back to the same topic many countries across the globe have been discussing: oil. With previous attempts to explore it in the South China Sea stalled last June due to the sovereignty claims, Manilla and Beijing are ready to try again.

While Marcos had previously claimed his nation would begin its exploration with or without the Chinese, that seems to have changed. Given the fact that China claims 1.3 million miles of the sea, much of their “territory” is heavily disputed as it cuts through the claims of other nations like the Philippines. This has caused the Chinese navy to go after numerous fishing vessels according to Marcos. Xi claimed he would investigate these claims and promised to “find a solution,” per a statement from Marcos on January 4th.

“We also discussed what we can do to move forward, to avoid any possible mistakes, misunderstandings that could trigger a bigger problem than what we already have,” the statement also claimed. This kind of promise from the Chinese is one the US and other nations have heard before, but it is also one that has been proven to be an empty promise in the past.

With Marcos also claiming Xi agreed to direct lines of communications between their maritime offices, as well as assistance to the Philippines in agriculture, infrastructure, and maritime security, there is a lot on the plate for Marcos to get the help his nation so desperately needs. In total, they ended up signing off on 14 separate bilateral agreements during their meeting.

For the US, this can quickly become a very dangerous position.

The Philippines have been sort of a gatekeeper for the US in terms of keeping a foothold in the Pacific. While they fall under the umbrella of the US as a defense ally, previous leader Rodrigo Duterte wanted better terms with China. He went so far as to ignore their territorial spats in trade for the Chinese investing in their country.

Marcos needs to watch what he is doing. Should he try and shift his interests completely under the Chinese in the hopes that they will save his nation, he is sorrily mistaken. A balance of support from the US and Chinese governments will not work out well for him if he were to try and play one side against the other. While he had a productive meeting with VP Kamala Harris back in November, it seems as if he has quickly forgotten the US commitments to his nation.