Branden W. Joseph | Grey Room
In the contemporary Asia-Pacific context, the fault lines leading to the Thucydides trap can be attributed to the continuing strategic competition between a seemingly declining United States and a rising China. Failure to circumvent this trap can ultimately result in a war of all against all. Against this backdrop, this article investigates how a small power re-evaluates its foreign policy and strategic behaviour using neoclassical realism theory. In particular, I examine President Rodrigo Duterte’s method which is characterized by four key elements: cultivating a more favourable image for China; moderating the country’s American-influenced strategic culture; mobilizing state-society relations supportive of ‘Sinicization’; and reorienting the country’s Western-based institutions to better accommodate Chinese pressures and incentives. Does a China-centric approach give a small power an indispensable strategic capital to successfully navigate and exploit both the challenges and opportunities of the impending new order? Do the Philippines’ shifting rules of engagement under the Duterte administration represent a forward-thinking strategic outlook rather than a defeatist and naïve stance? The article answers these questions by examining the factors and dynamics underpinning the conception and construction of the Duterte method, as well as its implications a vis-a-vis a small power’s foreign policy and strategic behaviour.