Duterte's Dance With China

Why the Philippines Won't Abandon Washington

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, January 2017. Ezra Acayan / Reuters

Since ascending to power last June, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has sought, with characteristic sound and fury, to signal the end of Manila’s century-old subservience to Washington. Shortly before his inauguration, the tough-talking president promised that he would “not be dependent on the United States.” When former U.S. President Barack Obama attacked Duterte’s human rights record, the Filipino leader told the Americans to “go to hell” and threatened to abrogate the 1951 U.S.–Filipino defense treaty. On multiple occasions, Duterte has cursed at top U.S. officials, including Obama.

Even as he has sparred with the United States, Duterte has worked to normalize the Philippines’ relations with China, which had frayed under his predecessor. He has pursued defense cooperation with Russia and praised President Vladimir Putin as his “favorite hero.” And during a high-profile visit to Beijing last October, Duterte—who has dubiously claimed to have Chinese

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