President Biden is meeting President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines on Monday at the White House, part of a four-day U.S. visit by Mr. Marcos intended to signal a strengthening alliance between the two countries.
The pair are set to discuss efforts to “uphold international law and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a White House statement, reflecting heightened anxieties over China’s growing assertiveness and fears of conflict over Taiwan, disputed seas, islands and shipping lanes.
Former President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines was more conciliatory than his predecessors toward China and at times more confrontational with the United States. Mr. Marcos, elected last year, has moved closer to Washington.
Here’s a brief breakdown of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines, which have long had a close — though at times unsteady — relationship:
Are the U.S. and the Philippines allies?
The Philippines, the oldest American treaty ally in the Asia-Pacific region, has long been a strategic anchor for American influence and military power in the western Pacific, but it is a relationship complicated by historic grievances.
In the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States won control of the Philippines from Spain, which had ruled the archipelago for centuries. American forces then brutally suppressed a Filipino independence movement, in a war that is largely forgotten in the United States, but not in the Philippines.
Japan invaded the islands in World War II, and Americans and Filipinos fought together to end that occupation. The Philippines gained its independence in 1946, and in 1951 entered into a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.
Throughout the Cold War, the United States had two of its largest overseas military installations in the Philippines, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, which both closed in the 1990s. The United States also backed the autocratic, 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos, father of the current president.
American military presence has long been a source of tension in the Philippines, where many people consider it an unwanted legacy of colonial rule. But a 1999 agreement permitted large-scale military exercises by visiting forces and a 2014 agreement allows extended stays by U.S. troops at five sites across the Philippines.
Relations deteriorated under Mr. Duterte, who turned closer to China and at home waged a harsh war on drugs that included a wave of extrajudicial killings. Mr. Duterte threatened to push back against the U.S. military presence, though he ultimately took no action.
Since taking office 10 months ago, the younger Mr. Marcos has sought to strengthen ties to the United States.
Why is this meeting important?
The U.S. is shoring up its military position in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China’s military expansion there and make contingency plans in the event that China invades Taiwan, the democratic island which China has claimed as its territory.
American officials have identified the strategically located Philippines as critical to fend off any potential conflict. The country’s northern main island, Luzon, lies just 225 miles south of Taiwan.
On their end, Philippine officials want the United States to help them deter China from using its military heft to encroach on its disputed marine territory.
Just two days ago, the United States accused Beijing of harassing and intimidating Philippine security vessels. The State Department called on China to “desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct.” An armed attack on Philippine vessels or forces, the department warned, “would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”
What territorial disputes does the Philippines have with China?
The Philippines is among a group of Asian nations mired in longtime disputes with China over territory in the South China Sea, an area the size of Mexico that encompasses busy trade routes, rich fishing waters and strategically important maritime zones.
In 2016, an international tribunal at The Hague rejected China’s claim over the sea and said it violated international law.
But former President Duterte, who has called diplomacy with Beijing a “delicate balancing act,” largely demurred from pressing President Xi Jinping to comply with the ruling, warning that his nation could not afford trouble with China.
That stance has been at odds with the public opinion in the Philippines: Polling late last year showed that 84 percent of Filipinos believed that Mr. Marcos’s government should work with the United States to defend its sovereignty in the disputed waters.