6: Contradictory Infrastructures and Military (D)Alliance: Philippine Elite Coalitions and Their Response to US–China Competition

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This chapter discusses how elites in the Duterte administration (2016 onwards) have carved out new state spaces amid intensified US–China geostrategic competition and the expansion of the BRI in the Philippines. While observers argue that Duterte represents a distinct ‘pro-China’ faction, this chapter instead suggests that the country’s recent shifts in foreign economic policy are the result of competing political, economic, and military coalitions that collectively underpin a convoluted geopolitical approach towards US and China. Beyond Duterte’s immediate role, this account draws attention to a broader constellation of actors and conflicts behind the country’s management of the BRI and geopolitics in general. In the context of US–China competition, Philippine elites are pursuing longstanding political, economic, and spatial objectives through state restructuring. The first case in the chapter illustrates how Philippine economic managers shifted their infrastructure strategy from a market-oriented approach leaning heavily on public–private partnerships (PPPs) to a hybridized usage of PPPs and foreign funding. The second case shows that elites within the Philippine military, particularly the Coast Guard, leveraged Duterte’s (d)alliance with China to expand their jurisdiction and capacity. In sum, the chapter illustrates that host states restructure in the context of US–China competition in accordance with the interests of elite coalitions, illustrating the heterogeneity of powers and interests in the host country.

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