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Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever recorded, struck the Philippines in November 2013 with winds of up to 190 mph (305 kph). At least 10,000 people died in one Philippine province alone.

NewsAsia

Disaster diplomacy at play in Haiyan aid response by China, United States

Fast and generous US aid effort is restoring its prestige in Asia, while China's sluggish, modest response is being seen as a missed opportunity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 3:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 11:14am

The brutal Typhoon Haiyan is having geopolitical effects in the region, with a quick and generous response from the US shoring up its influence and China's sluggish and modest aid effort making a dent in its soft power.

As the two powers continue to compete for regional influence, observers say aid diplomacy is helping Washington offset an earlier blow to its prestige in Asia caused by US President Barack Obama's no-show at two important summits. Beijing, on the other hand, is missing the opportunity to strengthen ties strained by maritime disputes.

Beijing announced its initial offer of US$100,000 on Monday, when international assistance was already pouring into the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan hit on Friday. Another US$ 100,000 would be donated through the Chinese Red Cross. This modest offer from the world's second-biggest economy immediately attracted criticism abroad. Yesterday, Xinhua reported that China would provide an additional 10 million yuan (HK$12.7 million) in relief supplies.

Even after the increase, the amount still pales in comparison to efforts made by the US and another regional rival, Japan.

China and the Philippines have been in diplomatic deadlock over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Among the countries that have such disputes with China, the Philippines has been the most assertive in refuting its claims.

China is actually damaging its own claims by not responding more decisively
ANALYST RORY MEDCALF

While the maritime dispute is considered a key factor holding Beijing back from offering more help to Manila, consideration of domestic public opinion is also having an effect, according to Qiao Mu, the dean of the Centre for International Communications Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

"Nationalist sentiment is very strong in China and Chinese people can be very vindictive. Offering too much help to the Philippines could draw criticisms from the people. So public diplomacy is outweighed by domestic public opinion," Qiao said.

President Xi Jinping made improving regional ties a foreign policy priority after taking power last year.

However, Beijing was missing out on an opportunity to regain trust and influence in the region, said Rory Medcalf, the director of the International Security Programme at the Lowy Institute in Australia. "It's very harmful for China's own interests and its image in the region that it's not responding in a quicker and larger way," he said.

China could have reinforced its claims in the South China Sea by demonstrating that it could do good there, Medcalf said. "China is actually damaging its own claims by not responding more decisively," he said.

Video: Chaos in stricken Philippine city amid wait for aid

While more help might be on the way from Beijing, Medcalf said the first impression would last. "Disaster diplomacy sends very strong signals about which countries are influential in the region, and about co-operation and loyalty among these countries."

Zheng Yongnian, an analyst of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore, said: "China has missed an excellent opportunity to show itself as a responsible power and to generate goodwill.

"They still lack strategic thinking," he added.

The decline of American influence in Asia, with China filling the vacuum, has been predicted for years. Asian nations have become more dependent on China to purchase their exports and Chinese companies provide investment and employment.

Yet China lags far behind the US in the sphere of soft power — the winning of hearts and minds through culture, education, and other non-traditional forms of diplomacy, of which emergency assistance is a major component.

Despite Chinese academics' frequent promotion of soft power, Chinese leaders did not really get it, Zheng said. Instead, they continued to rely on the levers of old-fashioned major-nation diplomacy based on economic and military might. "They still think they can get their way through coercion," he said.

China's generosity with the Philippines has not entirely dried up. It pledged US$80,000 to the Philippines last month following a major earthquake there, in addition to this week's pledges. And Xi expressed his sympathy to his Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino over the latest disaster, although a five full days later and without mentioning assistance.

The US, on the other hand, is shoring up its influence amid doubts about its place in the region. Obama's absence from two regional summits in October was considered a setback to his policy of re-engaging with Asia in the face of a rising China.

Richard Heydarian, a political science lecturer at Ateneo De Manila University in the Philippines, said Washington's response would give a huge boost to its influence in the country.

While the Philippines have had an ambivalent attitude towards Japan, which invaded the Southeast Asian country during the second world war, the presence of Japanese troops could help score points for Tokyo, too.

"I am sure Philippine media will be talking about how helpful the American and Japanese troops are. These are big soft power points for the US and Japan," Heydarian said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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This article is now closed to comments

josephbrahmana
Sadly to say, this is truly the difference between a develop society and an under-develop society. Being a fellow Asian, it is extremely embarrassing to see US$100,000 worth of aid coming from the Asian "Superpower", while the rest of the world is giving millions of dollars in aid and above all the US sending an entire fleet to assist (ever think about what is the daily operation cost of running a carrier battle group? And who is paying for it?). Only when they see that the rest of the world is taking action, then they "pledge" more aid. Even serving the very basic need of another human-being is being debated due to "nationalist sentiment".
With a heavy-heart and disappointment, this is why China will not and cannot be considered as a superpower! A nation cannot be a superpower when the country not willing to take any international responsibilities and personal sacrifice to achieve a global goal that benefits humanity. In the end, this is why the West and the Americans will still dominate the world, because simply China keeps blowing off opportunities to step up!
jd.salinger.3154
I wonder who hired these phonies to write such garbage at SCMP. The same typhoon had also caused damage in Vietnam and China.
.
Looks like it is the author herself and the ASEAN being nationalistic and vindictive towards China and not the other way around. I suppose China has other priorities such as her own people. If the ASEAN was upset about Obama's no-show at APEC, it is awfully shortsighted and uncivilized for the ASEAN to direct their anger towards their neighbor.
.
Maybe Obama wasn't so wrong to have skipped APEC. Like China, the US also has priorities over the mindless bickering that is spilling out of the ASEAN these days.
singleline
;) sooo Aquino (and marian) should stop feeling so high and mighty and armchair "intelligent' in his (her) comfy home when these Hong Kong people are experiencing these hoprrible things and ...
marian
actually , the philippine government evacuated the people in the visayas region of the Philippines ahead of time and for HK people out there ,the people of Leyte and the rest of the visayan islands in the philippines knows how to deal with very strong typhoons since time in memorial. the problem was they did not expect STORM SURGES(water from the ocean being picked from extreme winds creating tornado like winds with water dumping on the land on alarming speed). they haven't experienced that yet.--- that's why many of them where killed(well,aside from the fact that this was supposedly the most powerful storm ever recorded in history .... a very lethal combination of America's Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina combined together in one Lethal super typhoon ). Don't worry: the Philippines is smacked on the middle of the Pacific where the strong typhoons will go through and be a sort of barrier for other Asian countries---. so that when it comes to other asian places(China etc...),typhoons will lessen in power and speed. ;) sooo singleline should stop feeling so high and mighty and armchair "intelligent" in his comfy home when these people are experiencing these horrible things and faced these with every ounce of strength and courage they got. darn straight America is earning huge brownie points with their emergency response to the world(Japan too once their troops arrive).
singleline
Even though China were the only country who had helped the Phillippines after the typhoon, the Phillipines’s animosity toward China (and Hong Kong) wouldn’t have diminsihed by a dime.
Why didn’t the Phillipine government evacuate their people when the typhoon was coming, as was done in the United States? Unlike Hong Kong, the people there must have somewhere to go. Is the country’s transportation facilities too backward to do so?
The king, the king’s to blame.
Perhaps ‘Why Nations Fail’ has really rejected ‘Guns, Germs, And Steel’.
webtruder@gmail.com
No matter what I say, you say or what the Chinese government officially says whether true or not, everybody in the world saw China in a bad light- According to some foreign analysts it will be easier for China to be viewed as a big country that is only good at chest thumping,controlling the opinion of its citizens, scaring its neighbours,coercing other nations through its cash and power.They know the U.S. can also be described using those words, but now they know that at least the U.S. will not hesitate on deploying its resources even if they are pretending that they want to help.Now, they have a valid argument regarding their pivot to asia to provide security in the region. While China couldn't give a rat's **** by rationalizing every means possible not to help a neighbour so near that it claims islands near the country that is in need of humanitarian help.The government should be alarmed of the fact that all the glamour that the country has shown from the beijing olympics, economic might and having our own aircraft carrier is all is damaged now.Geez, we won't even be able to claim a higher moral ground when we start to decide to take back islands deemed ours historically.This has damaged our country's image in a big scale whether we like it or not at this crucial stage where image is everything and most of us are still rationalizing Beijing's actions!We just do not get it don't we?

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