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Top US official meets Philippines' Marcos to boost "longstanding alliance"

FILE PHOTO: Philippine president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is photographed during a news conference at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Philippine president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is photographed during a news conference at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File Photo

MANILA : Philippine President-elect Ferdinand Marcos met with a top U.S. official in Manila on Thursday, underscoring efforts to preserve an alliance strained by incumbent leader Rodrigo Duterte's animosity toward Washington and his embrace of Beijing.

The Philippines is a fulcrum of the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China. Though the Southeast Asian country has a defence treaty with the United States, their ties were left shaken by Duterte's recent overtures to China.

Analysts also see Marcos as more favourable to Beijing than Washington, but last month he said he would defend sovereign territory and stand up to Chinese encroachment, in his strongest comments yet on foreign policy.

Despite warmer diplomatic ties, the Philippines and China have nonetheless clashed over overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway that sees about US$3 trillion worth of trade pass through it every year.

Several countries including the United States have raised concerns over what they see as China's assertiveness in the region.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Marcos discussed regional security, and human rights and the rule of law in the Philippines, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

"We discussed strengthening our longstanding alliance, expanding people-to-people ties, deepening our economic relationship, advancing human rights and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific," Sherman said on Twitter.

Marcos, who is set to take office on June 30, has described the Philippines' relationship with United States as special and "very important."

But his own relations with it are complicated by a contempt of court order for his refusal to co-operate with the District Court of Hawaii, which in 1995 ordered the Marcos family to pay US$2 billion of plundered wealth to victims of his namesake father's rule. He and his mother, Imelda Marcos, also face a US$353 million fine.

Marcos hasn't visited the United States for 15 years.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila, without directly addressing Marcos' case, said: "Under international law, a sitting head of state is granted comprehensive immunity from foreign jurisdiction.  Therefore, a president will have immunity from U.S. jurisdiction, including when travelling in the United States."

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)

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