Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan

First Chinese relief team sets off for typhoon-devastated Philippines

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 12:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 2:37pm

A team of Chinese rescue workers set off for the Philippines on Wednesday to assist with disaster relief in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said.

The team - composed of an emergency medical and rescue unit - represents the first batch of Chinese relief forces sent to the Philippines.

The decision to send the humanitarian team comes in the wake of a furore surrounding the amount of aid the central government initially decided to donate to emergency relief efforts.

While leading nations around the globe offered seven-figure aid packages, the authorities in Beijing were made the target of widespread ridicule following a US$200,000 (HK$1.55 million) contribution from the government and China Red Cross.

Video: Aid efforts ramped up following Philippines super typhoon

For many, the donation was not commensurate with China’s global economic clout and represented a dangerous precedent of linking humanitarian aid with political issues.

Beijing is currently locked in an extended territorial standoff with Manila over the sovereignty of a group of small islets in the South China Sea. Known as the Spratleys, or Nansha in Chinese, the islands have been the source of prolonged diplomatic tension between the two nations.

Under international pressure, China later increased its aid to about US$1.6 million.

“Beijing came upon a chance to show amity and soft power. Yet it chose to be petty, due to sea disputes with Manila. With trade overshooting US$36 billion last year, China often calls the Philippines ‘partner,’” wrote one op-ed in the Philippine Star on Wednesday.

The first shipments of relief goods from China began to arrive in the Philippines earlier this week.

As part of the relief effort, Beijing has also sent a hospital ship belonging to the People’s Liberation Army Navy. The Peace Ark has 300 beds, eight operating theatres and the capacity to host about 40 major surgeries a day.

The Philippines is grateful for “China’s kind offer of medical assistance in several forms,” said Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

As of yesterday, the death toll from the storm stood at just under 4,000, with about 18,000 injured and 1,600 missing, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines said.