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US, China congratulate Marcos for Philippine election win

MANILA (AFP) – The United States (US) and China have congratulated Ferdinand Marcos Jr on his win in the Philippine presidential election, as the superpowers jostle to have the strongest ties with the Southeast Asian nation.

Marcos, the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, secured more than half of the votes in Monday’s poll to win the presidency by a wide margin and cap a remarkable comeback for his family.

He and running mate Sara Duterte, who also won the vice presidential race in a landslide, have embraced key policies of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, including his position on China.

The elder Duterte sought to pivot away from the US, the Philippines’ former colonial master, towards China since taking power in 2016 – and appeared reluctant to confront Beijing over territorial disputes.

Even before Marcos declared victory, the US and Chinese presidents were quick off the mark to start building a personal relationship seen as strategically vital by both rivals.

In a phone call on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Marcos the two countries had been “partners through thick and thin”, Chinese state television reported yesterday.

“I attach great importance to the development of China-Philippines relations and am willing to establish a good working relationship with President-elect Marcos, adhere to good neighbourliness and friendship,” Xi said.

The US said it will seek close security ties with the Philippines under Marcos, but made clear it would raise human rights.

In a phone call, US President Joe Biden congratulated Marcos and said he wanted to expand cooperation on a range of issues, including climate change and “respect for human rights”.

Marcos said yesterday he had assured Biden that the Philippines “always held the US in high regard as a friend, an ally, and a partner”.

Marcos also invited Biden to his June 30 inauguration, but did not say if the US leader had accepted.

The US has a complex relationship with the Philippines – and the Marcos family.

After ruling the former US colony for two decades with the support of the US, which saw him as a Cold War ally, Marcos senior went into exile in Hawaii in the face of mass protests and with the nudging of Washington in 1986.

As regional tensions remain high, Washington is keen to preserve its security alliance with Manila that includes a mutual defence treaty and permission for the US military to store defence equipment and supplies on several Philippine bases.

But Marcos’s spokesman Vic Rodriguez warned a US contempt of court judgement against the younger Marcos could “affect” the relationship.

The decades-old issue relates to the family’s failure to pay compensation to thousands of victims of human rights abuses during Marcos senior’s regime.