Chinese Soft Power: Another Typhoon Haiyan Victim
Image Credit: flickr/ Nove foto da Firenze

Chinese Soft Power: Another Typhoon Haiyan Victim


China never ceases to amaze. Not only has the leadership done away with a promising soft-power campaign that was years in the making. It razed its own soft-power edifice to the ground, and salted the ruins so nothing can take root again. Why remains a mystery.

The latest trouble sign came after Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippine Islands over the weekend, claiming at least more than 1,800 lives so far. Professor Mead posted an item marveling at the paltry sum Beijing committed to Philippine disaster relief. Upon reading it, I was sure Mead had omitted two or three zeroes. But sure enough, cross-checking his commentary against a Reuters report shows he had the figure right: US$100,000 in direct aid, and another US$100,000 through the Red Cross. Such token amounts give tokenism a bad name.

Forget smile diplomacy. This is sneer diplomacy. Many observers, myself included, ascribed Chinese inaction following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to immature capability. The PLA hadn’t yet fielded the expeditionary capabilities necessary to render assistance far from Chinese shores. Beijing did little because it could do little. Chinese forces, however, now own disaster-relief assets such as the hospital ship Peace Ark. Yet they remain idle. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Beijing is withholding help out of pique. Manila, after all, has the temerity to insist that its exclusive economic zone is, well, its exclusive economic zone. Seems political tit-for-tat trumps alleviating human suffering.

Such behavior appeared unthinkable not long ago, when China shrewdly put the faces of figures like Confucius and the Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He on its rise to great power. The message: China is a uniquely benevolent great power, incapable of abusing small neighbors.

Such appeals worked so long as Beijing stuck to its narrative. Soft power is the “power of attraction,” according to Professor Joe Nye, the concept’s godfather. Naval Diplomat coauthor Toshi Yoshihara likes to ask whether it’s a pheromone, or perfume. Answer: a pheromone.

Culture, institutions, and policies — the founts of soft power — must remain consistent for long periods of time to create expectations among target audiences. Erratic behavior, or behavior at odds with the image a country projects, is bound to strike observers as phony. Or rather, it’s apt to discredit the narrative. A sliding standard of conduct is no standard at all. Skepticism, if not disbelief, will greet Chinese diplomacy the next time Beijing tries to daub on perfume. A faint stench will come through.

There’s an upside to this from an American standpoint: China has made itself look small and petty, like a skinflint rather than a magnanimous power worthy of regional leadership. This is self-defeating conduct of a high order. Far be it from me to interfere with a strategic competitor intent on shooting himself in the foot. Fire!

December 18, 2013 at 22:17

Talking about stench. This article smells like propaganda, not what I expected when started reading. Shame on you, Mr Holmes.

November 30, 2013 at 01:39

another hundreds killed and wounded in Iraq, the occupier, the sofe power blower, please leave Iraq, we can not take your sofeness.

November 30, 2013 at 01:36

That is a lot, I did not see American donate anything to Iran, what is going on the writer idea is not balanced, biased, and untrustful.

November 28, 2013 at 18:39

the Philippines under the current regime has become a rogue state. Any future aid to this rogue state should be conditioned upon deep political reform and investigation, arrest, and trial of corrupt political leaders, and immediate stop to territorial expansion in the South China Sea. ASEAN countries and China should send in monitors to ensure relief funds and food are not being diverted by corrupt Philippines officials or US “advisers” or “diplomats”. China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam should impose sanctions on the Philippines if current corrupt regime refuses to reform.

November 30, 2013 at 00:26

If the Aquino administration, or ‘regime’, as you put it makes the Philippines a rogue state, what can you say about the other administrations that are viewed with a negative light? Pray tell. As a Filipino, I am curious as to how a pro-Chinese poster views our political landscape.

November 30, 2013 at 11:53

As someone who’s impartial on the pro-China and anti-China debate, the Philippine is proof that democracy doesn’t suit most parts of the world.

December 2, 2013 at 03:56

@litigator you should have seen the Philippines experiment on autocracy if you are so vehement of the a Republican Government in the Philippines.

RP defender
November 30, 2013 at 02:56

And yet it was not the Philippines who send a aircraft carrier in other country as if it owners the place and made a non existent Air zone over islands it does not control or govern again claiming it for the propose of simple imperialism and belligerent behavior and you have the Audacity to call the Philippines a rouge state?

December 18, 2013 at 22:31

Philippines is more a sort of a failed state than a rogue one, to be rogue it should have capability to be a threat to other countries and it don’t posses that.

Hu Yao Bang Bang
November 30, 2013 at 11:00

Good job, comrade! Hope you spend your 50 cents wisely by buying more wonderful products that are proudly made in China. As for the rest of you typical erroneous filipino-maid-loving imperialist western-media brainwashed non-experts in the greatness of glorious Han Chinese history, just be quiet and keep buying made-in-China. Don’t worry about how every cent you spend on made-in-China products only contribute to the manufacture of more Chinese bullets, missiles, patrol craft and bombers because PRC’s peaceful rise is clearly not a threat to anyone. Only uncivilized and brutal flips are the real threat, together with its western imperialist masters in washington. Buy made in China! Long live the great Peoples Republic of China Charm Offensive! Xièxiè!

November 30, 2013 at 11:47

He’s got nothing on you. At the current exchange rate, the ten cents you got working for the dime brigade is a bit more valuable, that is if you spend it in China. Cheers:-)

RP defender
November 30, 2013 at 23:54

That was it wow giving stupidity a whole new meaning

I mean how does sending a armed warship an aircraft carrier no less means anyway if you don’t think that’s not threading then need your brains check

December 2, 2013 at 03:26

I find this funny, do you think China has that Political Clout in the Philippines? Do you think ASEAN will support you?

America has scored on the Haiyan Relief Operation and all China did was damage control.

Kangmin Zheng
November 28, 2013 at 08:20

$200000000 unbelievable from a country with 1.3 billion people!

November 28, 2013 at 06:20

Well, it really shows the maturity of China and accentuates the United States standing and benevolence in the South East Asian Region.

November 29, 2013 at 07:14

LOL. It sounds more like sarcasm of America’s hypocrisy. Only a few decades ago the Philippines was a de facto colony of the US. I wonder how many of the 800-1000 US military bases around the globe are in Asia. Talk about expansion and hegemony, no country can hold a candle to the US. That’s why S. Korea, Japan, the Philippines etc act like slavish servants to the US. They would dare sound an objection even when the US piss on them.

November 29, 2013 at 07:16

edit: … They *wouldn’t* dare sound an objection …

December 2, 2013 at 03:28

Sad, but we did stand agains the United States, we choose not to renew the Bases Agreement with them following the overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship.

It shows that the Philippines is a sovereign nation, thought their getting kicked was a direct result of the support that they gave to the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos who have clearly lost his mandate.

December 2, 2013 at 03:30

Also, we are not a de facto colony of the United States, we are Allies as proven by the Mutual Defense Treaty that we have with them. It is only normal that we maintain close ties with the United States. As exemplified by the Philippines help in the Korean and Vietnam War as well as sending Peacekeeping Forces to the UN.

November 27, 2013 at 23:38

Anti-Chinese field-day today?
Too much hamburger (meat) eaters are beating their chests over the chance to smear a potential rival in the superpowerdom. LOL.

In the meantime, poverty in Pakistan is dire because the US refuse to give aid after she has shown sympathy for the Talibans, who were alleged by the West for allowing the Al-qaida to use Afghansitan as a base against Western interests.

Hu Yao Bang Bang
November 30, 2013 at 11:15

+5 Billion to that Comrade! Keep up the good work in defending the Motherland from these corrupt filipino-maid-loving imperialist western-media brainwashed non-experts in the greatness of glorious Han Chinese history. They should all just be quiet and keep buying made-in-China. Don’t worry about how every cent spent on made-in-China products only contribute to the manufacture of more Chinese bullets, missiles, patrol craft and bombers because PRC’s peaceful rise is clearly not a threat to anyone. Only flips with their newest warship that harass poor Chinese poachers, er, fishermen are a threat. Buy made in China! Onward with China’s glorious Charm Offensive and Peaceful Rise! Xièxiè!

November 27, 2013 at 16:15

I believe this article has genuinely described the failure of China’s soft power, and has highlighted the hypocrisy of the regime.

It’s very obvious that China is aggressive in nature, there’s no such thing as a China’s peaceful rise. It’s military is there to start trouble.

November 27, 2013 at 10:18

you know an article is credible when it attacks a country and gives biased opinions instead of telling the full story, oh wait.

Little Helmsman
November 25, 2013 at 13:57

I was Starbucks earlier today and there was a posted flyer asking donations for typhoon relief. Usually in natural disasters there will always be NGOs and charity organizations seeking public help through donations. Grocery stores also post donation bins for relief. On my Facebook I see my friends posting pics at work asking for donations! Does stuff like that exist in china ? Nope!

November 25, 2013 at 10:57

After this analysis was published, Chinese hospital ship has been busily helping the sick and wounded. It is the first hospital ship from around the world.

November 24, 2013 at 16:17

@a_canadian_absurder, the post by Thomas is informative, credible. Your posts, on the other hand, have been sheer nonsense. Please stop insulting our intelligence and wasting the bandwidth.

November 26, 2013 at 02:33

@Keys: Look who is talking. First, you smeared my name – that speaks a lot about your character. Second, you were not able to provide any point to disprove my comment. Based on those, the rest of your comment should be applicable to you instead. Try better next time, buddy.

November 26, 2013 at 17:37

@a_canadian_absurder, calm down … only you yourself can smear your name and character, and you have done a great job so far. You must have learned a lot from Little Hellsman, RisingSht, and MYK.

November 27, 2013 at 02:23

@Keys: You still haven’t got it. You yourself have smeared your name as well as your people’s, who boast 5000 years of civilization yet possess thugy actions and attitude towards your neighbors.

November 27, 2013 at 10:13

what is there to disprove in your comments? you had no substance in your comment whereas Thomas did

November 24, 2013 at 13:55

funny, “what do I get in return” I think this is the whole point of the argument and why China has lost face. This defeats the whole point of aid. Aid is not a business arrangement, its helping those who face challenges, working with the international community, to help those in dire need.. You arnt selective with aid, you give if you can. Wow your lack of understadning is pretty sad.

November 24, 2013 at 09:58

Just have to counter what Kanes has said at the start [fourth or fifth comment down]
The EU and the USA have given vast amounts of aid to the Philippines including a considerable amount of manpower.

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