Soft power

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By Erma M. Cuizon

Sun.Star Essay

Saturday, May 31, 2014


THE recent visit of 12 Philippine congresswomen to China could be the beginning of an idea on how to resolve the dispute between the two countries over some islands in the South China Sea. (The Philippines calls the area West Philippine Sea.)

With the invitation from China of the visit and the acceptance by the Philippines and the travel done, soft power is showing and could help to begin to solve the problem.

The Communist Party of China had invited Filipino leaders to make a visit to China “to exchange ideas on various women initiatives,” said Rep. Gina de Venecia of Pangasinan.

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The ladies’ stay in China from May 8 to May 18 led by de Venecia, who is also president of the Association of Women Legislators, was a person-to-person visit to China, like a personal meeting between the Chinese government and visitors from the Philippines as an answer to China's invitation, the language not formal and suave but honest and friendly as though to allies and comrades -- womanly, soft and tactful.

The other congresswomen represented Manila, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Siquijor, Bukidnon, Masbate, Davao del Sur and a party-list representative. Cebu was represented by Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of the Third District.

China's Vice Minister Chen Fengxiang referred to the visit in answer to the invitation of China as the Philippine government’s show of “courage and sincerity.”

The presence of the Filipino women in China on a show of diplomacy moved Vice Minister Chen to say that the islands dispute in the South China Sea “does not paint the whole picture of our relationship,” adding that China is not closing its door and its stand “is not confrontational.”
It's soft power working for our countries, let's hope.

But the matter is quite tricky. Regarding the dispute with China over the Spratly Islands, the Philippines has asked for international mediation while China wants a bilateral relation. Then the relationship would be of mutual respect and mutual benefit, China says.

How do we combine soft and hard power, the first effort being “a soft touch to diplomacy,” as some journalists put it?

News last year on the visits of China's president and his wife to four countries called attention for its diplomacy. It seemed to show the soft touch in nations reaching out to each other instead of “threatening” a fight.

It was the wife who brought it on. It was a usual scene to see a visiting nation's president or prime minister coming in from the plane with his guards and top leaders, all male. In the case of China’s foreign visits, Chinese President Xi Jinping came with his First Lady Peng Liyuan. There they were arriving at the Moscow airport, coming down from the plane --Peng Liyuan in her graceful overcoat, walking arm in arm with President Xi.

The softness showed with Peng visiting a boarding school for orphans, donating sewing machines, school bags, and other gifts.

When we have enough of world wars, we could use some soft power to maintain peace, the quiet flow supple on the rigidity of hard power. We could use such peace in this world, most women would say. And the softness could come into the firmness to assuage it.

The visit of women legislators in another country seems to be the softness on the matter at hand.

A foreign policy scholar, Dr. Joseph Nye, Jr., was the one who first used the phrase “soft power” in a speech in 1990. Hard power is a show of threat of military power, coercion, hostility, he cited the difference.

Talking of softness, one of the early help we got from outside the country after typhoon Yolanda disaster came from China, say the group of Filipino women legislators who made the visit that could probably, hopefully make a difference.

***

(ecuizon@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 01, 2014.

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