March 30, 2020

China soft power fails in The Philippines

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

China soft power fails in The Philippines

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – American troops are helping to restore security in the storm-ravaged Philippines, and to distribute aid delivered to the island nation by U.S. cargo planes and ships. The aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, will soon provide a staging area for search and rescue efforts, and for medical services. The typhoon that struck last week left in its wake a human tragedy of immense and historic proportions, and a number of nations in addition to the U.S. have stepped up to the challenge with humanitarian assistance and financial aid.

Among the most generous donor countries are Japan ($10 million) and Australia ($9.6 million). Way down the list is China with $100,000 provided by the government, and another $100,000 provided by China’s Red Cross. Since China is the world’s second largest economy, its comparatively small contribution is raising questions about why its government decided to play such a minor role, and whether China missed an opportunity to burnish its image as an emerging super power.

Granted, the Philippines and China are embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but that shouldn’t deter humanitarian assistance in a natural disaster of this magnitude. China is on the way to being a superpower, and part of being a superpower is extending force and assistance around the world to demonstrate muscle and economic might. Declining to play that role in the Philippines raises questions about China’s ability and/or willingness to shoulder the responsibilities that come with power.

In geo-political terms, China’s low profile in the aftermath of the typhoon plays right into the Obama administration’s game plan. President Obama has made no secret of his goal to reposition American forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and to shift focus from a Middle East in chaos to the emerging markets in Asia, where a 21st century economy is waiting to be tapped by U.S. companies.

China is in the process of boosting its defense budget, which makes it even more of a mystery why its leaders haven’t taken advantage of an opportunity to showcase its growing military capability. Geographically, China has a competitive advantage; it can reach the stricken much faster than the U.S. The Philippines are in its backyard whereas days lapsed before the U.S. could play a meaningful role.

It may sound petty to introduce these rivalries at a time when tens of thousands of people have lost family members and are without food, water, shelter and medical supplies. The larger point is nations that actively engage at this critical moment will forge relationships that endure, and that will pay off in the future. It’s not too late, the rebuilding of the areas hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan will take years. Maybe China is husbanding its resources, steering clear of humanitarian efforts in the immediate aftermath with a longer-term plan for rebuilding that would better showcase its dynamic economy.

For now, though, the situation of the Filipino people is still so desperate, they’re likely angry at the time it’s taken to reach them rather than feeling grateful for whatever aid is getting through. The U.S. is doing what a superpower should do, providing troops, military assistance and humanitarian relief. On Wednesday, President Obama encouraged Americans to go on whitehouse.gov/typhoon for links to organizations that are working in the Philippines and accepting contributions.

It is puzzling that China is doing so little to counteract America’s “soft power” at a time when the U.S. is in the process of ringing China with hard power that ranges from a renewed naval presence in the Philippines to negotiations with Vietnam over a potential base in Haiphong Harbor. Along with recognizing the enormous need of the Filipino people, Obama understands the geo-political importance of winning hearts and minds in a way his Chinese counterparts evidently do not.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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