MANILA — President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. on Friday described China as the "strongest partner" of the Philippines, adding that Beijing "cannot find a greater champion" than his mother, former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Marcos Jr. said the Philippine alliances with other countries would "keep the stability of our economic recovery" from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That cooperation is, what I believe, will bring us forward to a bright future... We can only do it with our partners. And our strongest partner has always been, in that regard, our close neighbor and our good friend, the People's Republic of China," he said during an award ceremony of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding (ACPU).
Manila and Beijing have long been locked in a dispute over areas of the South China Sea — almost all of which China insists it has exclusive rights to, rejecting a 2016 Hague ruling that its historical claims were without basis.
Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte fostered warmer ties with his more powerful neighbor by setting aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment, which critics say have not materialized.
During the APCU event, Marcos Jr. said he would continue Duterte's "independent" foreign policy.
"This is what we feel is best in the national interest and I feel it is to be advantageous not only to our friends in China but to all our friends around the world," he said.
CHINA AND THE MARCOS FAMILY
During the APCU event, Marcos Jr. thanked the organization for including his mother Imelda among its Hall of Fame awardees last year. The group every year honors Filipinos who contributed to strengthening ties between Manila and Beijing.
"I may be biased, I think it is just right because China cannot find a greater champion that my mother in the Philippines," he said.
Imelda had served as a special envoy to Beijing for her husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. She made preparations for his 1975 state visit to China, which marked the normalization of its bilateral ties with the Philippines, according to a South China Morning Post report.
Marcos Jr. had accompanied his parents on their Beijing trip, during which Mao and then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai offered their support for the Marcos patriarch's imposition of martial law, the SCMP said.
Months before the state visit, Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong was photographed kissing the hand of the Philippine first lady.
"He took my hand and kissed it ... And that was the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Because the Philippines was America junior ... do you see how serious that was?" Imelda told Agence France-Presse in 2009, as quoted by the SCMP.
A widely shared video also shows Imelda singing with the Chinese leader, noted Beijing's Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian.
Huang said this showed the "kind of sentiment between the peoples of China and the Philippines" in terms of friendship.
"She deserves the first award of [Hall of Fame]," he said during the APCU event.
The Chinese ambassador said he was "fully confident" that relations between Beijing and the Philippines would "surely open a new chapter and be upgraded to new heights."
"China-Philippines relations are now at a critical juncture. The everlasting friendship between the Chinese and Philippine people is an inexhaustible driving force for the long-term development of bilateral relations," he said.
"Let us commit to steering our relationship in the right direction, deepen our mutually beneficial cooperation, and usher in an even brighter future for China-Philippines friendship."
The APCU named Former President Joseph Estrada and former Philippine Ambassador to China Francisco Benedicto as its Hall of Fame awardees for 2022.
Other awardees included Kamuning Bakery's Wilson Lee Flores, UP-Visayas Professor Celso Cainglet, and Davao City Investment and Promotion Center chief April Marie Dayap.
APCU and the Chinese embassy also honored the late Chito Sta. Romana, who was Manila's ambassador to Beijing. He received the Gawad Sultan Paduka Pahala, a special award.
Marcos Jr's wife Louise Araneta-Marcos and their son, congressman-elect Sandro Marcos, attended the event.
Other guests included incoming National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos and incoming Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles.
— With reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse; and South China Morning Post
FROM OUR ARCHIVES