China ready to send medical teams to Philippines

BEIJING - China says it is "ready" to send emergency medical personnel to the disaster-hit Philippines after its earlier pledges of financial and material aid were criticised as meagre given its economic power.

The Chinese government, which has a long-standing territorial dispute with the Philippines, initially offered just $100,000 to help in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan but raised its offer by a further $1.6 million on Thursday.

"In light of the current actual needs of the typhoon-hit areas, the Chinese government is ready to dispatch the emergency medical assistance team on humanitarian grounds," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement posted on the ministry's website Sunday.

He added that private groups, including one under the Chinese Red Cross, have also expressed willingness to travel to the Philippines to assist in disaster relief.

Hong said the rescue teams would depart "when conditions" allow but did not provide further details on the contingent.

China was in close contact with the Philippine government on the provision of medical assistance, he said.

Beijing's offer of aid has been dwarfed by contributions from the US, which is leading the relief effort, Britain and Japan.

Questions over the size of Chinese assistance come as Beijing and Manila are involved in a dispute over islands in the South China Sea that both nations claim and which has cast a shadow over their bilateral relations.