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As the coronavirus has spread across the world and effectively brought nation-states to their knees, we have seen an interesting soft power push by traditionally opposing powers of the West, and the U.S. in particular, to provide much-needed aid to thankful recipient governments. 

Policy Summary

As the coronavirus has spread across the world and effectively brought nation-states to their knees, we have seen an interesting soft power push by traditionally opposing powers of the West, and the U.S. in particular, to provide much-needed aid to thankful recipient governments. This is a model that the U.S. and the Trump administration should mirror, as it has both short- and long-term benefits in terms of forwarding American geopolitical ambitions and fighting the coronavirus scourge.

The foremost example is China. Although it will go down in the history books as the origin of the pandemic and blatantly mishandled the crisis initially, China has made great strides towards re-defining its international image as its domestic crisis has diminished. It has pledged testing kits to the Philippines, already donated testing kits to Cambodia, sent medical supplies and coronavirus experts to France and Italy, and has promised support to Spain and many others. It has also flown medical specialists to Iraq and Iran, along with medical equipment and supplies. Italy has been particularly accepting and grateful of China’s help, citing the fact that the European Union has done little to help them. Serbia has recently asked for assistance from China as well rather than their customary European allies, calling Xi Jinping a “brother” and a “friend” in the face of nonexistent European solidarity.

Then there’s Cuba, which arguably has the most well-established and best health care system in Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the potential of attracting American ire, Jamaica and the local government of the north of Italy have both asked Cuba for nurses, equipment, and medical experts. Cuba has happily agreed and publicly stated that it has “solidarity with Italy.” Britain has also received assistance from Cuba, with the island nation being the only one in the Caribbean willing to allow an infected British cruise ship to dock on its shores.

Analysis:

In times of extreme need and crisis, usual, politically minded questions about motivations and underlying ambitions are ignored in pursuit of alleviation and resolution. Since the end of World War II and the Marshall Plan, the West has been the standard provider of humanitarian aid and the celebrant of mutual cooperation. However, the coronavirus has laid bare these claims of benevolence and the Trump administration’s historically go-it-alone strategy has no doubt severely weakened the international community’s faith in the established world order.

In such a vacuum, China has seen the opportunity to pacify international anger at its role in the spread of the pandemic, grow its soft power base, and further bolster its economy and domestic support. China has painted itself as a benevolent, accountable leader on the world stage, and this crisis is an excellent window to make headway. Although people may be furious at China for the pandemic, those that are drowning will never turn away a life raft, even if said raft come with its own geopolitical price tag. For example, the Iraqi and Chinese governments have recently announced that they are not simply confining their relationship to fighting the outbreak in Iraq, but to work within the oil industry and modernizing the country’s electric infrastructure. China has been actively preaching the advantages of political cooperation, and has chastised U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran, protesting that they are violations of the spirit of humanity in such times of crisis. It has now been accepted and even praised by the governments of Europe that had previously been shut to its influence; a boon for its national propaganda machine that seeks to appease an agitated, post-virus populace. Its manufacturing centers for masks and other medical supplies are experiencing global demand. And while the U.S. sits idle and looks to its own self-interest, China bolsters its position.

Cuba has also lost no time in furthering its place as the provider of aid. With arguably the best health care system in the Caribbean and Latin America, Cuba is in a prime state to make use of the tenants of soft power. It has stated that the needed principles of common unity, transnational collaboration, and health as a human right are key to the, “humanist practices of the Revolution and of our people.” If anything, this crisis is a blessing for Cuba in the international relations sphere. With a strong domestic health care system, it can likely weather the pandemic, and by exporting medical professionals it garners popular support that had been previously unattainable under U.S. hegemony and international favor that will only help in the future.

The Trump administration should be looking at these examples and making similar steps to reach out and forge humanitarian connections with countries across the globe. Not only would this signal that the U.S. is more than a self-serving global hegemon and greatly reduce worldwide human suffering, but it would assist in maintaining America’s long-term power base. A world order arranged around a central power is only upheld by its members as long as said power is seen as being compassionate and pursuant of mutual benefit, and in this continuing pandemic, the U.S. is not displaying that it has the best interest of others at heart. In addition, it is necessary to end this brief by saying that this argument has placed all humanist and moral values aside, and that as human beings, we should work to reduce the suffering of others as much as possible. We are all human, after all. We should act like it.

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