By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Monday he discussed the extension of a joint military agreement with an envoy of defence ally the United States, after meetings with senior diplomats of four countries.
Ambassadors of Japan, India and South Korea and the U.S. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires made courtesy calls on Monday to Marcos, the son and namesake of the notorious late dictator, following his landslide election victory this month.
Marcos, 64, who take office late in June, said he discussed with the U.S. envoy the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and how it would be redefined amid a changing regional landscape, plus funding for climate change mitigation.
“We would welcome any assistance for the economy that we can get from the United States,” Marcos told a news conference. “Trade, not aid.”
The VFA, which provides a legal framework by which U.S. troops can operate on Philippine soil, was a bone of contention for incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, who repeatedly threatened to scrap it.
“Security concerns of course has always been a big part of our relationship with the United States,” Marcos said.
Analysts expect Marcos to pursue close China ties, which could complicate relations with former colonial power Washington, his military, and the Philippine public, with which the United States is popular.
He last week spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he wanted bilateral ties to “shift to a higher gear”.
Marcos said he discussed aid projects with Japan’s ambassador, microfinance with India and with South Korea, information technology, regional security and the possible reactivation of a disused nuclear plant.
The plant was intended by his late father to be part of his economic modernisation legacy, but was mothballed after his overthrow in a 1986 “people power” uprising, two years after completion.
Marcos said he asked Arsenio Balisacan, the national anti-trust agency chief, to be economic planning minister, a role he held from 2012 to 2016 under an administration that was a rival to the influential Marcos family.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty)