Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, in his last days in power, is reversing his country’s course back towards its longtime ally the United States. The shift comes after years of trying to romance the Chinese. 

When he took office in 2016, Duterte wasted little time in insulting U.S. President Barack Obama and signaling his desire to turn away from the United States and towards China and Russia. 

“I realign myself in your ideological flow and maybe I would also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines, Russia,” Duterte said at the time.

After stating that “it was time to say goodbye to Washington,” Duterte set about a number of actions to slowly cut ties with the U.S. and warm relations with China. But his efforts to schmooze Red China have borne little fruit, in fact, they have had the opposite effect. Now Duterte is coming back full circle to repair ties with the Philippines’ long-time ally.  

In an editorial piece on Rand Corporation’s website, senior defense analyst Derek Grossman wrote that “Now, just as easily as he flipped one way, he’s flopping the other: His China-friendly policy is effectively over, and he’s doing his best to align the Philippines with the United States again.”


Duterte’s Chinese Affair Backfired

American and Filipino officers exercise
U.S. and Filipino officers from 2015 during an exercise. (DVIDS)

Duterte’s feel-good overtures to China bore nothing but trouble. Duterte’s “Build! Build! Build!” infrastructure plan, which he hoped would take advantage of the Chinese predatory Belt and Road Initiative never bore fruit. 

Then, Beijing aggressively pursued its claims to the South China Sea. In 2019 and early 2020, China encircled the Philippines’ Thitu Island with hundreds of militia boats, preventing Filipino authorities from upgrading the island’s runway and making other infrastructure improvements.