China's meagre aid to the Philippines could dent its image
BEIJING - China may have wasted the chance to build goodwill in Southeast Asia with its relatively paltry donation to the Philippines in the wake of a devastating typhoon, especially with the United Statessending an aircraft carrier and Japan ramping up aid.
The world's second-largest economy is a growing investor in Southeast Asia, where it is vying with the UnitedStates and Japan for influence. But China's assertiveness in pressing its claim to the disputed South China Sea has strained ties with several regional countries, most notably the Philippines.
"The Chinese leadership has missed an opportunity to show its magnanimity," said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong who focuses on China's ties with Southeast Asia.
"While still offering aid to the typhoon victims, it certainly reflects the unsatisfactory state of relations (with Manila)."
China's ties with the Philippines are already fragile as a decades-old territorial squabble over the South ChinaSea enters a more contentious chapter, with claimant nations spreading deeper into disputed waters in search of energy supplies, while building up their navies.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-nation grouping that includes the Philippines, has been talking to China about a binding code of conduct in South China Sea to ease the friction, but Beijing's frugal aid hints at a deeply entrenched rivalry that could make forging consensus difficult.
"China, as a responsible power, should participate in relief operations to assist a disaster-stricken neighbouring country, no matter whether it's friendly or not," the paper said in a commentary.
Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Philippines on Friday and flattened the city of Tacloban, where officials fear 10,000 people died. Officials fear the toll could rise sharply as rescuers reach more isolated towns.
Overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, the Philippines has sought international assistance.
The U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS George Washington, carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft, will arrive this week after setting sail from Hong Kong on Tuesday. It has been joined by four other U.S. Navy ships.
"China has also suffered from the disaster, so we very much understand and sympathise with the current hardships that the Philippine people are facing," Qin told a regular briefing, referring to the deaths of at least seven people and $734 million in economic losses when the much-weakened storm swiped China's southern provinces.
"We are willing to consider providing more support and aid within our capacity as it goes."
"Politically there is a lack of trust, and under the circumstances, the fact that China is willing to extend aid is quite significant," he said. "The two issues are linked to each other."
"For God's sake, give them nothing," wrote one user. "We've given them enough in the past."
Cheng said public sentiment would factor into China's decision.
"I certainly think that relief and aid for natural disasters should not be affected by political relations. But the Chinese authorities are handicapped by domestic nationalist feelings as well," he said. "China should have used the opportunity to improve its image."