China makes belated aid offer to Philippines

A man painting an SOS message on a basketball court at Anibong in Tacloban on Monday. Super Typhoon Haiyan has affected more than four million people. The US, Britain, Germany, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia are sending emergency relief aid.

A day after foreign governments began rushing emergency relief aid to typhoon victims in the Philippines came China's belated offer of assistance.

In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which has affected more than four million people and may have killed 10,000, the United States is sending relief aid, military personnel and equipment; Britain is offering an emergency support package worth US$9.6 million (S$12 million); and Germany is flying in 23 tonnes of aid. Taiwan has offered US$200,000 in relief assistance.

Among Asean members, the Singapore Government is donating $200,000 while Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has told government agencies to send aid and a quick-response disaster relief team.

Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh on Monday said the grouping is working closely with the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management to ensure an "effective response".

China, which on Saturday sent its condolences through its embassy in Manila, announced its aid offer on Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular briefing that the government and the China Red Cross would donate US$100,000 each and that China would be monitoring the situation and working with international groups to see what else it can do.

Last month, China pledged to ramp up cooperation with South-east Asia in wide-ranging areas including disaster relief when President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang visited the region.

Analysts cite various reasons for China's slower response.

Dr Xu Liping, an Asean researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said bilateral tensions arising from the two countries' South China Sea dispute is a key factor.

"Right now, the Sino-Philippine relationship is not in a normal state, so the government cannot handle the situation through normal means," he said, adding Beijing will have to first check if Manila is ready to accept its aid to avoid any embarrassment.

"The government also has to assess how much aid to give because giving too little or too much could invite criticism from the Philippines or even from the Chinese people," said Dr Xu.

Some Chinese netizens said the Philippines is being "punished" for standing up to China in the maritime disputes and a botched bus hostage rescue in 2010 that killed eight Hong Kong tourists.

But Professor Wang Fan, assistant president of the China Foreign Affairs University, said bilateral tensions do not figure in China's calculations, adding that China also had to cope with the impact of Haiyan, which hit Hainan island and Guangxi province too.

Singapore-based analyst Euan Graham noted the typhoon struck just as a key Communist Party meeting began on Saturday. But he thought prompt action could have helped improve the region's opinion of China, which is regarded as increasingly assertive.

"It doesn't take much for China to offer some limited form of aid to demonstrate that it is capable of setting aside South China Sea disputes for humanitarian purposes," said the senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

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