Typhoon relief: China misses an opportunity

Typhoon relief: China misses an opportunity

For three days, as foreign countries rushed aid to the typhoon-stricken Philippines, China, the giant that had recently pledged to play a bigger role in the region, remained on the sidelines.

The humanitarian aid it announced on Monday was also paltry, compared with help from other countries, including those with economies smaller than Beijing's.

China, the world's second-largest economy, offered US$100,000 (S$125,000) each from the government and its Red Cross society. In contrast, the United States and Japan, the largest and third-largest economies, pledged US$20 million and US$10 million respectively.

Said Singapore-based analyst Euan Graham: "Compared to the US$300 million appeal launched by the United Nations and pledges of individual donors, China's aid is barely a drop in the ocean."

It was only on Wednesday that it pledged 10 million yuan (S$2.05 million) worth of relief supplies, and President Xi Jinping extended condolences to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday.

China's first response also compares poorly with how it handled its past foreign disaster-relief efforts. It sprang into action a day after the Asian tsunami hit on Dec 26, 2004, and offered over 20 million yuan worth of aid.

But Chinese analysts cite mitigating reasons for China's slower response this time, such as having to cope with the typhoon, which swept through southern Chinese provinces Guangxi and Hainan.

However, Vietnam, which also suffered from the disaster, pledged the same US$100,000 aid as the Chinese government did, even though its US$142 billion economy is 58 times smaller.

Others say Beijing's decision-making process was slowed down as its top leaders and officials were busy at a key meeting of the Communist Party that began last Saturday, a day after the typhoon struck the Philippines and has killed more than 2,500 people.

But it is unimaginable that China doesn't already have in place an action plan in the event of a natural disaster hitting a feuding neighbour.

In the current 24/7 news cycle, Beijing's response looked conspicuously slow.

The likeliest reason for China's belated response should be bilateral tensions with the Philippines arising from their maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

Beijing either had to ensure its aid offer would be accepted by Manila so that it wouldn't prove diplomatically embarrassing, or had skipped the chance to be among the first responders as it weighed the pros and cons of engaging the Philippines, which had peeved China by taking their disputes to an international court.

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