Duterte has subsequently tried to walk back some of his dramatic moves. He now insists that his much‐touted “separation” from the United States was only from U.S. foreign policy, not a severance of the entire relationship. Apparently he would still like his country to enjoy the protection of the U.S. military alliance in the event of trouble and to preserve a vital trading relationship with America. Duterte also expressed his hope that Filipino fishing crews might again be able to occupy a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, although one should be cautious about placing a large wager on Chinese receptivity to that suggestion.
The reaction in the U.S. foreign‐policy community to Duterte’s behavior has been a mixture of anger and alarm. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Max Boot expresses an extreme version of the latter emotion, terming Duterte’s tilt to China as nothing short of a “disaster” for the United States. That kind of hysteria is, to put it mildly, an overreaction. Yet the conventional wisdom is scarcely better. American officials and most outside analysts seem to believe that, as annoying as Duterte’s flirtation with China (as well as his bloody domestic conduct) has been, the United States needs to grin and bear it. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, for example, steadfastly confirms that the alliance with Manila is “ironclad.” Cutting the Philippines loose would supposedly undermine U.S. credibility throughout East Asia, perhaps fatally.