What does the Marcos Presidency mean for US-China relations?

Ferdinand “Bambang” Marcos Jr. is on the card for a landslide victory. In the Philippines, he was spotted at his campaign headquarters in Mandalayung City, Manila, on Monday.

Getty Images via Veejay Villafranca / Bloomberg

It is certain that Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator, will be the next president of the Philippines.

So far, unofficial vote counts have shown that Bambang, popularly known as his home, is preparing for a landslide victory – with his closest rival, incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo, leading by a wide margin. Official results are expected later this month.

A Marcos Jr. presidency will be completely different from the six years under President Rodrigo Duterte, says Victor Manhit, managing director of the advisory body. BowergroupAsia

“Duterte was the mayor of a small town, a mayor who became president. Marcos Jr. is much more universal in his upbringing. He understands better what is happening around the world,” he told CNBC on Tuesday.

What does this mean for foreign policy?

As Southeast Asia is the main theater of conflict for dominance between the United States and China, countries in the region are caught between two rival powers.

In this context, the presidency of Marcos Jr. will be closely monitored. In the South China Sea, China is embroiled in maritime disputes with the Philippines, as well as with several countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“When he started his campaign, Marcos Jr. started with a calm stance on China. But when he went on the campaign trail, he was able to hear the cries of the Filipino people, who were concerned about China’s aggression, in the national interest of the Philippines,” Manhit said.

Marcos Jr.’s perception of the Philippines’ position in the world could lead to a radical reversal of policy, he said.

However, another analyst said the new leader would probably have less room for strategy than his predecessor.

“The Philippines has tried an outstretched arm, and China has bitten it. That’s why the Duterte government has re-embraced the US alliance and taken a hard line against Beijing over the past two years,” said Gregory Polling, a senior fellow and director of Southeast. In a note, the Asia program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The people of the Philippines and the bureaucracy are more distrustful of China than they were six years ago, in the wake of their landmark arbitrary victory in the South China Sea,” Polling said.

“Marcos Jr. may try to revive Duterte’s initial outreach in Beijing, but it is unlikely to toss the US alliance as part of the effort,” he said.

What it means for trade and business

Before the epidemic hit in 2019, the Philippines was one of the fastest growing economies in the world but was severely damaged by its service and remittance-led economic model Covid-19.

Marcos, who will inherit a huge budget deficit, did not spell out his plan to get the economy back on track after the epidemic.

However, there are indications that infrastructure development will be a key part of its agenda.

Amcham Philippine President Frank Thiel said he was “mildly optimistic” that he would continue to support projects initiated by Marcos Duterte.

“The ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program has been very successful, we hope it will continue and expand,” he said, referring to Duterte’s trademark infrastructure project aimed at creating employment and reducing poverty in the country.

“It is clear that infrastructural development will be a key part of Marcos’ agenda – even if questions remain on specific priorities, how he will finance them and how much private / foreign capital will be used,” Peter Mumford said in a note to Eurasia Group South and South. Head of East Asia.

According to Thiel, on the trade front, the Marcos presidency could mean that a free trade agreement between the United States and the Philippines would return to the table.

“We think it’s an opportunity. It’s a new administration. New ideas, new plans, new programs,” Thiel told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Tuesday.

Marcos is widely pro-FDI but under his administration will be a major watchdog on whether corruption and cronyism in the Philippines — already a significant risk হবে will get worse.

Peter Mumford

Practice Head, South and Southeast Asia, Eurasia Group

Mumford said “Marcos is widely pro-FDI but under his administration a major focus will be on whether corruption and cronyism – already significant risks in the Philippines – will get worse.”

His landslide election victory is a plus that it gives his president a strong start.

“In particular, it will create a strong initial gravitational pull on members of Congress – especially with the Senate, which tends to be more independent-minded – and means more technocrats / economists will be willing to work in its cabinet,” Mumford said.

CNBC’s Abigail Ng contributed to this report.

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