Keeping the Relationship Warm

By Conor Cronin

Conor Cronin is a research associate with the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Previously, he lived and worked in Japan and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia. He holds an M.A. in International Relations and Economics with a concentration in Southeast Asia Studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Follow him on Twitter at @ConorCroninDC.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte rattled decades of foreign policy on October 20 with his announcement of a military and economic “separation” from the United States. The declaration came in Beijing amid a Philippine pivot away from the long-standing relationship with the United States and toward China, with whom Duterte said he “aligned” himself ideologically. Asia foreign policy observers are watching closely to see if Duterte’s bold statements translate into an official split, or if the move is part of a grand plan to play the two powers against each other in pursuit of an independent Philippine foreign policy.

If Duterte is only trying to play China against the United States to secure greater concessions from each, he is doing so in an extraordinarily ham-fisted manner. Courting Beijing would not necessitate a full split with the United States, nor would it require the crass language that has captured headlines. U.S. officials repeatedly have said that the United States welcomes warmer ties between the Philippines and China, because international relations is not a zero sum game. Additionally, after many of Duterte’s boldest statements, his cabinet secretaries scramble to either walk back or contradict his words. Duterte himself already walked back his “separation” pledge, saying he would not sever ties with the United States. This is not the execution of some well-orchestrated stratagem to balance great powers.

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

Access all of The Cipher Brief’s national security-focused expert insight by becoming a Cipher Brief Subscriber+ Member.


Related Articles

How Safe Would We Be Without Section 702?

SUBSCRIBER+EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW — A provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that has generated controversy around fears of the potential for abuse has proven to be crucial […] More