UK to get more scholars from PH

Paterno Esmaquel II
The UK, a 'subtle superpower,' wants to strengthen ties with the country that 'has the potential to be one of Asia Pacific's great success stories'

UK'S TOP DIPLOMAT. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague gestures as he answers a question during a joint media conference with his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario after a bilateral meeting in the Philippines. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Described as one of the world’s “subtle superpowers,” the United Kingdom promised Filipinos more scholarships as it strives to strengthen ties with Asian countries.

The UK also vowed to study the Philippines’ request to exempt Filipino diplomats and officials from visa requirements – a move that comes after Hong Kong sanctioned the Philippines by scrapping a similar privilege.

“We are increasing the number of Chevening scholars from the Philippines able to study in world-class British universities,” UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a speech on Thursday, January 30, in Makati City.

The UK awards Chevening scholarships – “an important element in Britain’s public diplomacy effort” – to “outstanding established or emerging leaders” from 118 countries worldwide. This year alone, up to 600 Chevening scholars have been taking one-year master’s degrees in top British universities.

For school year 2013-2014, the UK awarded Chevening scholarships to 11 Filipinos. The school year before this, 12 Filipinos received scholarships.

This is a far cry from the 7 Chevening scholarships that Filipinos got in 2011, and 3 in 2010.

PH seeks visa waiver

Geared to forge “closer ties with countries across Asia over the next 20 years,” Hague said his country will extend more aid to the Philippines, as well as create more partnerships.

In a joint media briefing with Hague earlier on Thursday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said his British counterpart informed him that the UK “will study our proposal for the waiver of visa requirements for diplomatic and official passport holders.”

Del Rosario also said the Philippines and the UK will strengthen “existing areas of cooperation.” These include signed agreements, such as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and the Extradition Treaty, and “proposed agreements in culture, education, science, and sports.”

On top of this, the UK has pledged the highest amount of aid after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), and has assisted the Philippine government in its peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). (READ: UK to Filipinos: Rally behind Bangsamoro deal)

Hague explained in his speech, “The Philippines clearly has the potential to be one of Asia Pacific’s great success stories and we want to support you in that, to the benefit of both our peoples.”

Leading ‘subtle superpower’

International analysts expect the UK to do all these.

This is after Monocle, a global foreign affairs magazine, and the UK-based Institute for Government ranked the UK as the second most powerful country when it comes to soft power. The two organizations released this ranking in their Soft Power Survey for 2013.

In 2012, the Soft Power Survey said the UK is number one among the world’s “subtle superpowers.”

In contrast, the United States ranked third in the Soft Power Survey for 2013, and second in 2012.

The survey measures soft power based on 5 categories: government, culture, diplomacy, education, and business and innovation.

The British Council, after all, defines soft power as a country’s “ability to make friends and influence people not through military might, but through its most attractive assets, notably culture, education, language, and values.”

“In short, it’s the things that make people love a country rather than fear it, things that are often the products of people, institutions, and brands rather than governments,” the British Council said.

In an open forum after his speech, Hague said the UK strengthens cultural ties with other countries as part of its soft power.

The British official, however, said soft power is “not something that we can use to get our way.”

“It’s a national advantage,” he said. “It makes our country a center of discussion, of culture, one of the crossroads of the world intellectually and linguistically.”

Eliciting laughter, Hague added, “But it’s soft more than it is power.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.