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Arugay, A.A., Baquisal, J.K.A. (2023). At the Sharp Edge of Power: Philippines–China Relations and Democratic Erosion Under Duterte. In: Ockey, J., Talib, N.S. (eds) Democratic Recession, Autocratization, and Democratic Backlash in Southeast Asia. Contestations in Contemporary Southeast Asia. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.


This chapter examines the perceived influence of China on democratic erosion in the Philippines, tracing the history of the diplomatic relationship from the administrations of Macapagal-Arroyo (2004–2010) through Aquino III (2010–2016) to the Duterte administration (2016–2022). China’s “sharp power” strategy aims to win hearts and minds and to distract and influence elites and the public within emerging democracies for its geopolitical benefit. However, it is not Chinese influence per se that has primarily contributed to democratic erosion, but rather local elites employing the “China factor”—namely access to alternative credit, China’s overseas development policy, and its pragmatism in working with illiberal elites—that has become an important tool enabling political leaders to undermine democratic constraints on their power. In this sense, Chinese policies, while aimed not at eroding democracy but rather at pursuing geostrategic advantage, have played an important secondary role in democratic erosion. The chapter unpacks how the China factor has been entangled with endogenous and exogenous sources of Philippine democratic erosion since 2016. Use of the “China factor” to erode democratic constraints also makes Chinese influence vulnerable to democratic backlash from the public.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.