BEIJING -- Stung by criticism that it was playing politics with disaster, the Chinese government said it was contributing money and aid worth $1.64 million to typhoon victims in the Philippines.
Beijing has come under fire at home and abroad for initially providing $100,000 in aid, seen as a reflection of a continuing territorial spat between the two countries over islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
Even the Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper, editorialized against the Chinese government.
“If it snubs Manila this time, China will suffer great losses,” the newspaper wrote in a front-page editorial on Tuesday. “China, as a responsible power, should participate in relief operations to assist a disaster-stricken neighboring country.”
Late Wednesday, the Chinese government said it was in fact providing a package that included blankets and tents worth $1.64 million in total.
“The Chinese are a nation who have a lot of sympathy, a people who love peace, who are happy to do good deeds,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a news briefing Thursday in Beijing. “I believe that the vast majority of the Chinese people are understanding and sympathetic toward the situation of the Philippine people.”
The Chinese Red Cross is also providing $100,000.
Jonathan Pollack, an Asia scholar at the Brookings Institution, said China had been missing an opportunity to exercise its “soft power” in the region with its response to the disaster.
“The Chinese dropped the ball,” said Pollack, who was attending a conference in Beijing. “They had the advantage of proximity. They could have offered to send in ships to help and the onus would have been on the Philippines to accept or reject it.”
Pollack noted that People’s Liberation Army troops on Tuesday began a disaster-relief training exercise with the U.S. military in Hawaii, an irony when the real-life experience is on their doorstep.
China’s contribution to help the Philippines is dwarfed by those of the United States, Japan, Britain and the United Arab Emirates, which have each pledged about $10 million.
To a large extent, the contributions reflect the underlying geopolitical tug of war in the South China Sea. Tensions with China have nudged the Philippines closer to the United States. In announcing the U.S. aid package, President Obama was quick to hark back to a historical alliance with the Philippines.
“The areas affected by this storm are some of the same places where Americans and Filipinos sacrificed together to liberate the Philippines during World War II. Today, our message to the Philippines is that we stand with you once more,”’ Obama’s statement read, referring to the 1944 landing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Tacloban, now wrecked by the typhoon, in the fight against the Japanese occupation in World War II.
“As you rebuild from this storm, you will continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
An estimated 2,500 people died in the Philippines typhoon, with the toll expected to climb.
After an earthquake in Pakistan in September in which 500 people were killed, China gave $1.5 million in cash and nearly $5 million in supplies.