On Tuesday, Ferdinand Marcos Jr embarked on a state visit to China, the first non-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) country in the region where he was invited as a head of government and state (HOG/S).

Bongbong had been to Indonesia and Singapore as a state visitor and went to New York and Brussels to attend multilateral meetings with other heads of state and government.

The China visit is significant. It is the largest and strongest neighbor in the region. Its $17-trillion GDP is the world’s second largest after the United States, the Philippines’s long-time security ally and former colonial master.

However, China’s real intention to sustain friendly relations with the Philippines is suspect.

Beijing has continued to harass and bully Manila in the West Philippine Sea, threatening not only food security but the country’s energy security. In a few years, the Malampaya gas fields will dry up and it will take nearly a decade to develop new gas fields in the West Philippine Sea.

Philippine efforts to explore and exploit the Reed Bank, where there is a huge potential for natural gas, were blocked by China, driving away private survey ships hired by local petroleum companies to look for gas fields.

China wanted the Philippines to partner with its own national oil-and-gas companies in exploring and extracting energy resources in the Reed Bank, which is located within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruled that China’s expansive and excessive nine-dash-line claim in the South China Sea was illegal, awarding economic rights to the Philippines under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

China is a signatory to the Unclos but it continued to ignore the PCA’s decision. It also rejected multilateral efforts to resolve the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, favoring bilateral negotiations — a clear divide-and-rule tactic.

China enjoyed unprecedented good relations under Rodrigo Duterte but the Philippines never benefited from it. As early as 2016, Beijing pledged $24 billion in investments and loans but less than 10 percent of these pledges were delivered when Duterte left office in June last year.

The only visible windfall from the relations were two bridges that spanned the Pasig River. One bridge even affected an important cultural heritage site in Manila.

Beijing promised three new bridges in the Pasig-Marikina river, including the Manggahan floodway, for Marcos’s visit, and smooth entry to the Chinese market for Philippine-grown durian fruit.

These are a drop in the bucket as other Southeast Asian capitals get loads of Chinese investments, like Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Vietnam.

Chinese tourists who will start traveling later this year after Beijing relaxed its mobility have started looking at tourist destinations in Thailand and Vietnam as well as Japan, Europe, and the United States.

China also promised to renew the Philippines’s participation in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), another missed opportunity under the Duterte government.

But it saved the Philippines from potentially sinking into a debt trap similar to what had happened in Sri Lanka.

China was offering commercial loans at 3% interest but former finance secretary Sonny Domingues went to Japan for a more friendly rate and a much longer repayment scheme.

In an instant, China can reverse its friendly policies to pressure Manila to accept its conditions in the West Philippine Sea, like imposing non-tariff barriers on Philippine exports, withholding commercial loans and grants, and preventing tourists from visiting the country.

After the Philippines filed a complaint at the arbitral court in 2013, China did these things. These were temporary setbacks but the Philippines survived these trade and diplomatic pressures.

Bongbong should not be lulled into believing China’s sweet promises to offer joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea, huge loans under BRI, and market access for Philippine goods and services.

Beijing is good at double talk. While its left hand has been extending offers to help us, its right hand is slapping our wrist, especially in the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese militia vessels continue to swarm in the Philippine EEZ and, if the Bloomberg report is to be believed, it has started reclaiming uninhabited features, a clear violation of the 2022 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

It continued to ignore and reject the PCA ruling and sent more vessels much closer to Palawan in Sabina Shoal in the Spratlys and Iroquois Reef in the Reed Bank.

Ultimately, China wants to control Half Moon shoal, only about 100 miles from Palawan, a real threat to the country’s national sovereignty and security. For many years, Half Moon shoal has been a trading post for illegal wildlife and fisheries between Filipino and Chinese fishermen.

While China smiles and offers a friendly handshake, its maritime vessels continue to poach in Philippine waters, stealing marine resources and destroying the ecosystems, and, at the same, preventing oil-and-gas exploration and extraction in areas within the EEZ.

If China really wants to help its neighbors. It should become a responsible member of the international community and stop harassing smaller and weaker states.

The South China Sea is not the sum of bilateral relations of the two countries, but it continued to dominate the two countries’ dialogues with hundreds of diplomatic protests filed since the Duterte administration due to intrusions and harassment in the disputed waters.

The Philippines did not benefit from China during the time Duterte was in power and when the two countries’ relations were at a high point.

China has no real interest in seeing the Philippines prosper and gain strength. It is not in China’s interest to keep Manila weak and dependent because it would push it toward its traditional allies — the United States and Japan.

Marcos’s visit to China could be a waste of time. There is really no interest in China to make the Philippines a reliable partner, but, perhaps, a vassal as what is happening in the South China Sea.