Tragedy of Small Power Politics: Duterte and the Shifting Sands of Philippine Foreign Policy

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Domestic politics has played an important role in in the dramatic shifts in Philippine policy toward the United States and China, particularly as the South China Sea disputes have intensified. The Arroyo administration attempted to reduce dependency on the United States by engaging China and adopting an equibalancing policy while the subsequent Aquino administration abandoned equibalancing in favor of aligning with the United States against an increasingly assertive China. Today, President Duterte has expressed an intent to separate from the United States and move closer to China in pursuit of a more “independent” foreign policy. Duterte’s rapid consolidation of political power has strengthened his ability to chart the course of Philippine foreign policy, but domestic opposition and potential threats from China could undermine or reverse his course.