To feel is to believe: China, United States, and the emotional beliefs of Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte


The ongoing shifts in the global distribution of material and normative powers, particularly between the United States and China, have significant repercussions on the foreign policy strategies of smaller, weaker actors in the international system. Due to their limited capacity for dictating international politics in ways that could guarantee their survival, many in IR have argued that they usually prefer to operate within the prevailing status quo rather than attempting to revise it. Nevertheless, the Philippines, under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, seems to disprove this observation by dramatically pivoting towards Beijing and away from Washington, at least rhetorically. This paper moves beyond the commonly cited systemic factors and domestic intervening variables affecting the states’ foreign policies by examining the neglected emotions and emotional beliefs that help shape these instruments. My investigation of these unseen, albeit existing mechanisms, reveals the centrality of Duterte’s emotionally constituted and strengthened beliefs in providing a more complete and realistic explanation to his China-centric (as opposed to US-centric) foreign policy stance. As I argue and demonstrate throughout the paper, because emotions and emotional beliefs are powerful engines of human behaviour, they exert enormous influence on any state leader’s foreign policy motivations, decisions, and actions.

Political Science