When Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, stood before an audience of Chinese businessmen at a trade function in the Great Hall of the People on October 20 in Beijing, he promised a “separation” from the United States. It wasn't clear exactly what he meant, but he implied it would entail dropping the United States—his country’s third-largest trade partner, security guarantor, and former colonizer—in favor of an ill-defined three-way alliance with China and Russia. This was consistent with his pledges to draw back U.S.-Filipino military relations by suspending joint military exercises, re-examining other security agreements, and drawing closer with China.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Duterte’s staunch anti-Americanism is how starkly it diverges from public opinion. In recent years, polls have shown that Filipinos love the United States even more than Americans do. Other surveys show that most Filipinos distrust regional rival China, and overwhelmingly trust the United States. Much of this amity stems from the long, shared history between the two countries, dating back to the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 when the United States replaced Spain as the the ruling colonial power, and to World War II, when U.S. forces liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation and granted the country’s independence in 1946. After World War II, the United States and the Philippines agreed to a mutual defense treaty, giving the United States access to military bases in the country, including the massive Subic naval base.