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China's Meager Typhoon Relief Aid: Is Beijing Sending a Geopolitical Message?

November 28, 2013 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

While nations in the international community, especially Japan, Australia, and the United States, rushed to provide generous relief aid to the Philippines in the aftermath of devastating Typhoon Haiyan, China’s response has been noticeably different. Beijing initially offered a paltry $100,000 in aid funds, and only with apparent reluctance eventually upped that total to a still very modest $1.6 million. That parsimonious conduct produced widespread condemnation, both in East Asia and around the world.

We may have underestimated just how seriously Chinese officials regard their country’s territorial claims.”

It also led to considerable speculation about why Chinese officials would risk such a public relations debacle. Some experts contended that the response underscored decision making and logistical deficiencies in China’s political system. They argued that China’s military, for example, was simply incapable of delivering aid quickly and efficiently the way the U.S. military was already doing in the Philippines—and had done in previous natural disasters, such as the tsunami that devastated Indonesia and other countries in 2010. Retired Admiral Timothy Keating, former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the Financial Times that “they just don’t have the hardware, the equipment, the training that the U.S., Australia, Japan and Thailand have.” Ian Storey, a regional expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, offered a slightly more favorable assessment, noting that China has substantially increased its disaster relief logistical capability over the past decade. However, “at present it is not even close to matching the capabilities of the United States.”

Other experts, though, noted that such logistical limitations did not explain the failure to be far more generous with cash assistance. That behavior, they contended, indicated that the Chinese regime was utterly callous to the fate of other people. China, such critics concluded, cared only about itself and its narrow national interests. Writing in the National Interest Online, Walter Lohman, director of Asian Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, stated bluntly that China’s interest “is not in becoming a contributing stake holder, along with the U.S. and its allies, in maintaining a liberal, equitable, peaceful regional order.” Indeed, China’s version appears to leave “no room for basic human decency.”

Such explanations may have some partial validity, but there is another thesis that likely has greater explanatory power. Beijing’s relations with Manila have been quite tense in recent years, primarily because of competing territorial claims in the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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