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COVID-19 And Chinese Song Diplomacy – OpEd


“China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” This is how the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte predicted about China almost two centuries ago! It has been many years since the Chinese dragon woke up from its sleep and started spoiling the sleep of other nation-states. But I am not here to write about Napoleon’s prediction on China. This article is about an attempt by China to put Philippines to a long emotional sleep by a diplomatic Siren Song!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not referring to Song dynasty, which ruled Chinese land once upon a time! They have nothing to do with this issue. This article is all about a music video that was released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.

The music video released on April 23, 2020, contained a song written by Chinese Ambassador H.E Huang Xilan. The title of the song is ‘Iisang Dagat‘, which means ‘one sea’ and the song in fact implied something about a ‘shared destiny’ of China and Philippines.

This video song was dedicated for all those who participated in the fight against the COVID-19 spread. Shortly after the video was released on YouTube, thousands of people disliked the video! The video received more than two hundred thousand dislikes, while the number of likes doesn’t exceed four thousand! (As of the time of writing this article, it has 216,000 dislikes compared to just 3,900 likes)

What went wrong? We don’t find anything contentious in the scenery of the video or its dedication to Corona warriors. And the song and the singing voice are not that bad to get the shower of dislikes! The song, however, caused some controversy in the Philippines and set the stage for Filipinos to express their suppressed anti-China feelings.

To understand this, we have to get a clear picture of Chinese foreign policy in South China Sea region. Philippines expressed diplomatic protests against China on two incidents, just before the release of this song.

The first incident was on February 17, where the Chinese navy pointed a radar gun at a Philippine ship, that too in Philippine waters! This was a serious blow to Filipino self-respect as a nation. In response Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, Teodoro Locsin Jr. warned China that, “Never ever point anything at my country unless you’re looking for a fight.” This challenge from Philippines to giant China tells all about the frustration levels of Filipinos. In addition to this, the second protest came from Philippines when China occupied two Philippine territories and renamed them as “Nansha” and “Xisha”.

The song ‘Iisang Dagat’ is an strategy of emotional diplomacy to cover up China’s hoaxes in the South China Sea and to build goodwill in the minds of Filipinos. This is actually sophisticated song diplomacy! An English proverb says, “Don’t steal your friend, when he is in the hospital”. But Chinese foreign policy believes in hospitalizing a friend in order to rob him. You don’t have to be an expert to understand, what low Chinese foreign policy can get to achieve its objectives. History tells everything!

It is clear that ‘Iisang Dagat’ is not just a song; it is a diplomatic effort to put Filipinos to an emotional sleep. China has been very consistent in showing its goodness in an effort to lure Filipinos.

Through providing medical assistance, medical products, exchange of medical expertise etc., China initially scored pretty well. The video release of the song ‘Iisang Dagat’ was an extended program of the same strategy. But this time Filipinos are done with all this Chinese drama and started to look at every Chinese attempt to gain goodwill with suspicion and contempt.

When the whole world is facing a critical situation of COVID-19, China silently carried out its Song diplomacy to get some profit out of this crisis. It reminds me Winston Churchill’s statement, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. But this time it’s not just a warning to Philippines, but to the whole global community against China’s malicious diplomacy.

*Keerthiraj, Faculty of Political Science & International Relations at Alliance School of Law, Alliance University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

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