Update, Nov 14, 01:40 ET: Chinese media reported on Nov. 14 that China was sending an additional $1.64 million in supplies to Haiyan’s victims.
The U.S. has promised $20 million in aid for victims of Supertyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines and has mobilized an aircraft carrier for the relief effort. Britain is also sending a warship and has pledged $16 million. The Vatican is dispatching $4 million, Japan $10 million and New Zealand $1.7 million. And China, the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy?
It’s handing over $100,000.
China’s relations with the Philippines have frayed over the past year, as tensions rise over bits of rocks in the South China Sea that both nations have declared their own. While disputes in the resource-rich waterway have simmered for decades and involve other regional neighbors, China has, in recent months, more assertively staked its maritime claims and last year blocked Filipino fishermen from contested waters.
The fracas has led Manila to deepen security relations with both Japan and the U.S., nations that once colonized or occupied the Philippines. Earlier this year, Tokyo committed 10 cutters to upgrade the Philippine coast guard. Although American bases in the Philippines were closed in the early 1990s because of local opposition, talks are under way to renew an American military presence there.
A much weaker Haiyan affected southern China as well, causing much damage and killing eight people. But many users of the Chinese social-media service Weibo were neither moved by the current death toll in the Philippines (it stands at more than 1,800, and officials fear it may eclipse 10,000) nor the complete devastation visited upon many communities. “Our country is also suffering from the same natural disaster, but we still offered help to you [in the Philippines],” wrote one user. “If you do not appreciate our help, give back our money.” Another opined, “Since the Philippine government has the budget to purchase American weapons, they should not want for money.”
Beijing isn’t always so parsimonious with disaster assistance. Two months ago, when an earthquake rocked Pakistan, China promised $4.88 million in relief supplies. Many Chinese feel that more should be done to help the Philippines. The Chinese Red Cross has committed $100,000 of its own in disaster relief for Haiyan, and a Nov. 12 editorial in the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party–linked daily, said “as a responsible power” China should “participate in relief operations to assist a disaster-stricken neighboring country, no matter whether it’s friendly or not.”
But even if it now rushes aid and supplies to the Philippines’ storm-battered provinces, the Chinese government has been made to look mean-spirited in front of the world community. Beijing isn’t the only one that has tangled with the Philippines over maritime claims. In May, a Taiwanese fisherman was killed by the Philippine Coast Guard in the South China Sea. Yet Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, pledged $200,000 in Haiyan aid.
That’s double the amount the Chinese government is sending.
— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing