EDITORIAL – Losing hearts and minds
As countries scramble to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, some governments are still finding time for other pursuits.
Last week, the Philippine government lodged two diplomatic protests against Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea. The protests, filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs with the Chinese embassy in Manila, covered two issues.
One protest is over an incident on Feb. 17, when a Chinese navy vessel pointed a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship near Rizal Reef in the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan. The other protest is over Beijing’s declaration of certain areas of Philippine territory as part of China’s Hainan province.
Beijing has named 80 geographical features in the South China Sea and Paracels. Recently, Beijing created two administrative units covering the South China Sea – an area over which its “nine-dash-line” claim has been invalidated by the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The Philippine government had supported a protest filed by Vietnam against China over what Hanoi said was the ramming and sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat by a Chinese coast guard vessel near the Paracel Islands on April 3.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, China has donated masks and personal protective equipment to the Philippines. For this – and all help received by the Philippines from other countries in this time of grave need – Filipinos are grateful. Any goodwill, however, is inevitably eroded by hostile actions in the South China Sea.
China has also suffered grievously from the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from losing over 4,600 people, it is seeing its economy contract for the first time since it embraced the free market and globalization decades ago. The Philippines commiserates with all those who have lost their loved ones in China, and with all the other countries and people who continue to suffer from the economic devastation wreaked by the pandemic.
When this health crisis is over, China must continue doing business with the rest of the planet. With several groups and governments in the US and Europe demanding the equivalent of war reparations from China for the public health and economic calamity unleashed by COVID-19, Beijing should be exerting more effort to win hearts and minds across the globe. Launching hostile acts against its neighbors is hardly the way to do it.