Relation between the Philippines and China is one of Asia’s most volatile. Not only is Manila one of the most forward-leaning claimants in the disputed South China Sea, but it is also the longest-tenured ally of the United States in Asia. As US-China rivalry intensifies with action-reaction dynamics manifesting in such regional flashpoints as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, alliance threat perception of China grows. This makes for traditionally uneasy ties with its big northern neighbor. As such, the rapprochement with Beijing pursued by the Duterte administration, despite persistent challenges, earned both tributes and critiques.

The rise of China and the response to it is shaping global geopolitics.These and the Philippines’ own growing economic capacity and security concerns drive the evolution of bilateral relations. Improved ties in the last five years delivered economic gains, but security concerns persist. Going forward, Manila faces three critical policy dilemmas. The first is how to expand economic ties with China as what its other Southeast Asian neighbors are doing without becoming too beholden to Beijing. The second dilemma, related to the first, is how to deny China the use of economic leverage to diminish the country’s diplomatic legroom. The third is striking a balance between pursuing friendly ties with China to temper its behavior in the South China Sea and keeping deterrence and alliances to check potential expansionist ambitions in the contested sea.

 Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, Inc., with the support of the Philippine Office of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, organized a Track Two Observer Discussion Forum on Philippines-China Bilateral Relations during the Duterte Administration: A Review. The forum’s discussion focused on the gains and challenges in Philippines-China relations since 2016, with the aim of providing a foundation for discussions on assessing the incumbent administration's performance and distilling valuable recommendations for the next president of the Philippines.