Marcos eyes ‘ping-pong’ diplomacy with China

The Philippines has filed numerous diplomatic protests against China’s harassment of Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

Dona Z. Pazzibugan

Dona Z. Pazzibugan

Philippine Daily Inquirer


A Chinese Coast Guard ship towers before a vessel manned by members of the Philippine Navy on its way to the grounded vessel BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin shoal at dawn on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, and one of the nine stations guarding the West Philippine Sea. (File photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

September 26, 2022

MANILA — Citing the US-China “ping-pong diplomacy” in the ’70s as example, President Ferdinand Marcos said the Philippines would explore all avenues to peacefully resolve the West Philippine Sea row with China.

“The position that the Philippines takes is that we have no territorial conflict with China. What we have is China claiming territory that belongs to the Philippines,” he said in a forum with the international think tank Asia Society on Friday that capped his six-day visit to the United States.

The Philippines has filed numerous diplomatic protests against China’s harassment of Philippine fishing and Navy vessels in the West Philippine Sea, stressing its 2016 victory in an arbitration court that invalidated China’s sweeping claims over nearly the entire South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ maritime exclusive economic zone.

He said the Philippines maintains its position on maritime territories, fishing rights and economic zones but nonetheless continues to engage China on other aspects, citing economic and people-to-people relationships and cultural exchanges with China.

“I have always told my Chinese friends, let us not make our differences concerning maritime (territory) the defining element of our relationship. Because if that will be the defining part of our relationship, then we are really at a standstill,” he told the forum host, former Australian Prime Minister and Asia Society president Kevin Rudd.

“Hopefully, if we make progress in other areas, this will help. I always quote that the time, the way that the United States, for example, and China came together was through ping-pong,” said Mr. Marcos.

‘We must explore everything’
Now referred to as the ping-pong diplomacy, the series of matches held in April 1971 with the American national table tennis team who were invited to China by their Chinese counterparts became a watershed event that eased the Cold War tension between the United States and China that led to the reopening of trade and diplomatic ties in 1979.

“Perhaps that is something. So we must explore everything, we must explore every avenue. We do it G2G, government to government,” said Mr. Marcos, who lived through those times with his family in power.

“Can we do it [with] basketball?,” joked Rudd, referring to the game’s popularity in the Philippines.

“Basketball. It could be another,” said Mr. Marcos, with a laugh.

“But in any single way. We never know. You never know where the progress will come so you have to try everything. You cannot discount anything and limit yourself to just the traditional ways of negotiating, the traditional ways of dealing with this kind of problem,” he continued.

The start of the forum was pushed back for about an hour after about 10 people demonstrated against the Marcos martial law regime right outside the auditorium inside the tightly guarded Asia Society headquarters in Park Avenue.

After a few minutes of chanting anti-Marcos slogans, the protesters who had sat down on the floor with arms linked were dragged or carried away by members of the Secret Service.

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