In diplomacy and foreign relations, appeasement refers to a state’s effort to mollify or pacify, but not necessarily align with, a revisionist power. An appeasing state could extend diplomatic concessions to a revisionist power without necessarily aligning or subordinating its foreign policy with the latter’s. Appeasement can either complement a bandwagoning policy because a weak power is vulnerable to external pressure and has little capacity to confront the threatening power. Alternatively, it can supplement a state’s balancing strategies, in the same way that “talking tough” and leveling coercive threats can accompany or preclude taking concrete measures to improve one’s power relative to the threatening state.
A state appeases a revisionist power to prevent a conflict it cannot win or to acquire resources without necessarily aligning with the source of threats. In many instances, the provision of foreign economic assistance can affect a small power’s decision on whether or not it seeks to balance a revisionist power because it provides a clear and credible signal that the latter does not have any aggressive intention.
THREE YEARS OF APPEASEMENT
Since 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued an appeasement policy toward China, aimed at unravelling President Benigno Aquino’s policy of challenging the Asian power’s expansive claim in the South China Sea. He has extended the following diplomatic concessions to China: a) he distances his country from its long-standing treaty ally, the U.S., and gravitates toward an emergent regional power, China, bent on affecting a territorial reconfiguration in East Asia, and b) he has set aside the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) award to the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute. The Duterte administrations yields these diplomatic concessions to earn China’s goodwill. This is because it intends to harness Chinese financial resources under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to fund several major infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build program.
President Duterte and his closest economic advisers saw how Chinese investments boosted infrastructure development in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. They also observed that China’s BRI plans for increased connectivity among Southeast Asian countries through roads, railways, sea routes, airways, and the internet to promote unimpeded trade, policy-coordination, and financial integration. At the onset of his six-year term in June 2016, President Duterte sought a dramatic increase in Chinese investment and infrastructure projects in the southern part of the Philippines. He hoped that this massive inflow of Chinese development funds would facilitate the peaceful settlement of the Moro secessionist conflict, allow for both peaceful development, and create efficient connections to remote markets through the New Maritime Silk Road.
President Duterte, however, has not aligned or subordinated Philippine foreign policy to China’s revisionist goal of maritime expansion. He still challenges China’s expansionist goal. He has implemented the following policies: a) he has downgraded his country’s security relations with the U.S. but has not abrogated the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and has even allowed the conduct of several Philippine-U.S. joint military exercises in the South China Sea; b) he continued to bankroll the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program, aimed at developing the Philippine military’s territorial defense capabilities against China; and c) he has fostered a security partnership with Japan, China’s traditional rival in East Asia.