Change & Challenge: Philippine Foreign Policy and the Philippine-U.S. Alliance

From 2010 to 2016, then President, Benigno Aquino balanced China’s expansive maritime claim in the South China Sea. President Aquino challenged China by shifting the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) focus from domestic security to territorial defence, bolstering closer Philippine-U.S. security relations; acquiring American military equipment; seeking from Washington an explicit security guarantee under the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT); and promoting a strategic partnership with Japan. The Duterte Administration, however, is unravelling its predecessor’s balancing strategy by distancing itself from the U.S., and gravitating towards China despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 12 July 2016 award to the Philippines. President Duterte’s foreign policy is directed at reviving equi-balancing towards China, in contrast to former President Aquino’s balancing strategy. This is best exemplified by Duterte’s efforts to harness China for several major infrastructure and investment projects in the Philippines, and to resort to bilateral negotiations with Beijing. In conclusion, Professor De Castro argues that instead of relying on the U.S., President Duterte is cultivating a closer security partnership with Japan to equi-balance an emergent China.