China to step up aid to Philippines amid controversy

BEIJING - China is to increase its aid to the typhoon-pummelled Philippines, officials said after criticism of its initial modest response, but some Chinese web users called Thursday for it not to help at all.

The two countries are embroiled in a long-standing row over islands in the strategically vital South China Sea - which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

Manila accuses Beijing of asserting its claims increasingly aggressively and says Chinese vessels have occupied the Scarborough Shoal, which it claims itself, since last year.

China - the world's second-largest economy - announced a $100,000 cash donation on Monday, with a matching one from the Chinese Red Cross, far less than other countries and a move that prompted criticism overseas.

The US magazine Time carried a report Wednesday under the headline "The world's second largest economy off-loads insultingly small change on a storm-battered Philippines".

"The Chinese government has been made to look mean-spirited in front of the world community," said the article.

The Chinese embassy in the Philippines said China will provide an additional 10 million yuan (S$2.2 million) for relief efforts in the form of blankets, tents and other materials.

"All the materials are now under preparation and will be delivered to the Philippine government as soon as possible," it said in a statement on its website that was available only in English.

Chinese media and Internet users - many of whom are intensely nationalistic - were divided on how the country should respond to the disaster in the Philippines.

"If (the Chinese government) was generous to the Philippines, it would hurt the Chinese people completely," wrote a user with the online handle Old Beijing on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Another user said: "I think what China has done was rational - facts have long showed the wickedness of the Philippine regime. It will not be grateful if we hand them much money. Instead, it could use the cash to buy weapons from the US to attack us."

But some commentators warned that it was not in China's best interest to water down its humanitarian aid.

"A country's status on the world stage does not only rely on its economic and military strength. It is also determined by how much soft power it can master, which includes its approach to humanitarianism," said a commentary in the state-run Global Times Thursday.