It was a complete waste of time. It was purely a symbolic exercise to show that the two countries have good and friendly relations.

But in reality, China continued to violate the country’s sovereign rights in a strategic waterway where the Philippines’s food and energy interests are very crucial and important.

Perhaps, the only tangible result of Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s state visit to Beijing was gaining wider market access for tropical fruits, like durians, bananas, and mangoes.

But these are drops in the bucket. What the country really needs are direct investments. Infrastructure loans and grants, capital infusion to domestic industries. In short, real partnerships, joint ventures in digital technology, and capital intensive oil-and-gas projects.

A peaceful settlement of the maritime conflict will continue to drag on, perhaps, until the next administration.

Marcos witnessed the signing of 14 bilateral agreements in various fields but most of these were only memoranda of understanding, which means pledges.

Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, brought home $24 billion in pledges during his October 2016 visit to Beijing. China promised ambitious projects, like train systems, highways, and water and power projects.

But less than 10 percent were delivered. Two small bridges that spanned the Pasig River and a water project in the north were realized. The rest were shelved for various reasons. Many failed to move beyond feasibility studies.

The problem is not only from the Chinese side. There were reports of some corruption issues on the Philippine side, with some officials demanding kickbacks and bribes.

Of course, China’s officials could not be fooled by Duterte’s glib tongue that professed his love for the Chinese leader. In the past, when Duterte met Xi Jinping, he would praise Chinese technology, even bragging that a China-made sniper rifle killed the Islamist militant leaders in Marawi in 2017.

However, the military’s account was different. An Israeli-modified remote gun mounted on an armored infantry fighting vehicle (AIFV), or an M113, cut down Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers, ending the five-month conflict in the south.

On the surface, it appeared that the Duterte administration was pro-China because the president then gave a lot of concessions to Beijing. He even tried to downgrade the security relations with the United States and terminate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.

But, in the end, generals and diplomats prevailed, preserving the alliance.

Looking back, the Philippines gained very little in the improved relations with China. Bananas, pineapples and mangoes were allowed in the Chinese consumer market but the Philippines allowed the entry of Chinese workers to compete in the construction business.

Narcotics from China flooded the local market despite Dutette’s violent and bloody war on drugs, and gambling became widespread. There were also other crimes, like murder, kidnaping and prostitution involving Chinese nationals.

China donated vaccines but the bulk of the shots came from the US and Western countries.

The coronavirus disease originated from China. The first Covid-related death outside China was reported in Manila in early 2020.

So, did the Philippines benefit from getting close to China after relations soured when Manila filed a complaint and won in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague? The answer is a big NO.

China even used the protracted negotiations on an oil-and-gas project in the Reed Bank to delay Philippine efforts to explore and extract energy resources in its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

It also deprived Filipino fishermen of their livelihood in the West Philippine Sea and threatened national security by shadowing and preventing local vessels from bringing food, fuel, and water to remote outposts in the Spratlys.

Philippine and United States relations rebounded under Marcos in the first six months, causing serious concern in Beijing, which used to enjoy warmer relations under Duterte.

Beijing did not waste time in inviting Marcos, the first state visit outside Southeast Asia.

However, the State Guest House was reserved for another visiting head of state, Turkmenistan’s leader, so Marcos was forced to book a hotel room.

Of course, China paid for the accommodations of Marcos as he was a state guest.

It was a big achievement for China to invite Marcos to Beijing, promising again investments, loans, grants, and joint ventures in oil-and-gas. How much of that could materialize until 2028 is another story.

Perhaps, China might, again, stall the country’s unilateral development of oil-and-gas fields, which is crucial as the Malampaya gas fields are rapidly drying up.

It seemed impossible for the two countries to sign a deal of cooperation in oil-and-gas in the disputed Reed Bank and other areas in the South China Sea.

Both countries would like their own sets of laws and rules to prevail.

The Philippines will not agree to a 50-50 sharing because it has to follow the 60-40 sharing under the 1987 Constitution.

China also has its own rules and would not recognize Philippine sovereignty over the oil-and-gas fields. It has ignored an arbitral ruling and stuck to its nine-dash-line claim.

These are non-negotiable items that make it difficult to conclude an oil-and-gas deal in the disputed waters.

China also has a military, including its maritime forces, that operate independently from Beijing’s foreign ministry.

China’s national security interest is paramount. It is ready to forget its friendships when its security interests are threatened.

There were really no major deals made in the Beijing visit. Marcos got a market for durian and three bridges in the Marikina-Pasig river but the rest were promises, promises and promises.

Thus, Marcos might be holding on to empty promises made by Xi Jinping. The South China Sea is not the sum of the two countries’ relations but it remained as a dominant irritant that could affect cordial and friendly relations.

At the end of his term in 2028, Marcos could possibly regret wasting his time in meeting Xi Jinping because nothing much will change in the South China Sea. It was just a good photo opportunity.