WASHINGTON — President Biden will meet with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. of the Philippines at the White House on Monday, a visit that is meant to send a message to China that the Filipino leader plans to deepen his country’s relationship with the United States.
Mr. Marcos’s trip comes days after the U.S. and Philippine militaries held joint exercises aimed at curbing China’s influence in the South China Sea and strengthening the United States’ ability to defend Taiwan if China invades. The exercises were part of a rapid and intensifying effort between the two countries: In February, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military would expand its presence in the Philippines.
The trip is the Biden administration’s latest push to bolster its relationships with key Asian allies as tensions with China rise. Mr. Biden welcomed President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea for a state visit last week with discussions largely focused on deterring the missile program in North Korea, whose leader has grown more emboldened by a supportive China.
The strategic importance of the Philippines is a matter of proximity. Its northernmost island of Itbayat is less than 100 miles from Taiwan, and an increased U.S. military presence could allow for a quick troop response in a war with China. For the United States, Mr. Marcos is an eager but untested partner.
Mr. Biden and his advisers have been focusing on cultivating Mr. Marcos — who goes by Bongbong and is the son and namesake of the former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos — as a regional ally since his inauguration last year. Mr. Marcos is eager to repair the ties between his government and the United States, which frayed under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s leadership, particularly amid his brutal antidrug campaign. Mr. Marcos won election last year by forging an alliance with Mr. Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte.
U.S. officials are hopeful that the fragile Marcos-Duterte accord is strong enough to withstand pressure domestically but also from Beijing, which has warned the Filipino government to “properly handle issues” related to Taiwan and the South China Sea. The response, last week, was the largest-ever joint drill between the United States and the Philippines.
“During this visit, we will reaffirm our commitment to fostering our longstanding alliance as an instrument of peace and as catalyst of development in the Asia-Pacific region, and for that matter for the rest of the world,” Mr. Marcos said before departing for the four-day trip to Washington. His visit is a first for a Filipino leader in over a decade.
As a senator and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Biden was among the lawmakers who criticized President Ronald Reagan’s deep support for Mr. Marcos’s father, who ruled the Philippines for 20 years and declared martial law before a revolt led to his ouster in 1986. Mr. Biden is now trying to build an alliance with the younger Mr. Marcos.
“We can do a lot together,” Mr. Biden told him during a meeting last fall. “I’m desperately interested in making sure we do.”