www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/world/asia/asia-rivalries-play-role-in-aid-to-the-philippines.html?ref=world&utm_source=Active+Subscribers&utm_campaign=a23dd81d78-MR_111513&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_35c49cbd51-a23dd81d78-64063349&pagewanted=alles Play Role in Aid to the Philippines
Asia rivalries play role on thyphoon crisis.
ANDREW JACOBS - 14 Nov 13The outpouring of foreign assistance for the hundreds of thousands left homeless and hungry by Typhoon Haiyan is shaping up to be a monumental show of international largess — and a not-so-subtle dose of one-upmanship directed at the region’s fastest-rising power, China.
China, which has its own newly commissioned aircraft carrier and ambitions of displacing the United States, the dominant naval power in the Pacific, has been notably penurious. Beijing increased its total contribution to the relief effort to $1.6 million on Thursday after its initial pledge of $100,000 was dismissed as stingy, even by some state-backed news media in the country.
The typhoon, described as the most devastating natural calamity to hit the Philippines in recent history, is emerging as a showcase for the soft-power contest in Asia. The geopolitical tensions have been stoked by China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, and heightened by American efforts to reassert its influence in the region.
China has showered aid on countries it considers close friends, becoming the largest lender in Africa, rushing to help Pakistan after an earthquake in September and showing a more humanitarian side to its neighbors in Asia. But the typhoon struck hardest at the country China considers its biggest nemesis in the legal, diplomatic and sometimes military standoff over control of tiny but strategic islands in the South China Sea.
Over the past year, Chinese and Philippine vessels have faced off over a reef called Scarborough Shoal, and the Philippines has angered China by taking the dispute to an international arbitration tribunal. It did not help that the Philippines earlier this year said it would accept a gift of 10 coast guard vessels from Japan and voiced support for Tokyo’s plans to strengthen its military ties in the region, or that it is in discussions with the United States about hosting more American troops there.
The challenge for China comes shortly after the United States appeared to suffer a setback of its own in the contest for Pacific influence. President Obama had to cancel a high-profile visit to the region this fall to grapple with the fiscal shutdown in the United States, an event that seemed to many in Asia to showcase American dysfunction. So when the typhoon struck an old ally, the Pentagon did not waste much time offering a robust show of assistance.
“There is no other military in the world, there is no other navy in the world, that can do what we can do,” one American official said.
Michael Kulma, an expert on East Asia at the Asia Society in New York, said the Chinese reluctance to give more aid could hurt its chances to make a favorable impression in the country.
“There was an opportunity, right up front, for China to make a commitment,” he said. “At the end of the day it could be that the Chinese end up giving more. But on the front end of it, they didn’t stand out.”
At the same time, the relief efforts by the United States could give a lift to its already strong influence in the Philippines.
Despite its longtime alliance with the United States, the Philippines has been tentative over what Washington sees as the country’s role in its so-called Asian pivot, which includes efforts to increase the presence of American troops on Philippine soil.
But the American relief effort — which is receiving a lot of news media attention in the country — might wear away at some of that reluctance, a legacy of the years when the Philippines was an American colony.
Already, some in Tacloban said they would not mind American boots on the ground there temporarily, if it would help.
“If the United States will come in, if it will be allowed to come, or if the United Nations can come in, it will really help us secure the city,” said Jerry Yaokasin, a senior municipal official.
China’s rise has been shifting geopolitics in the region for years. With China’s investments in Southeast Asia mounting, even some countries worried about being overwhelmed by their imposing regional neighbor have found it hard to resist the pull of its economy — a dynamic that is very likely to continue.
But China’s increasing power has also in some cases worked against it, including in the Philippines, where the battle over maritime territory, including the Scarborough Shoal, has softened the wariness of Japan and the bitter memories of World War II, when Japan invaded.
In announcing their assistance on Thursday, Japanese officials spoke of it mostly as an effort to provide humanitarian assistance, though there was also an acknowledgment of growing security ties.
“The Philippines is geographically close to Japan and an important strategic partner,” said Japan’s defense minister, Itsunori Onodera.
The donated coast guard vessels are meant to help the Philippines better patrol its waters, including those contested with China. On Thursday, officials said Japan’s military would send C-130 transport aircraft and helicopters to ferry supplies to areas that have been cut off by the disaster. Japan will also send three navy ships, led by the Ise, Japan’s largest warship. Tokyo also offered $10 million in emergency aid.
As more countries came forward with impressive aid packages — and after days of ignoring criticism that it was offering too little aid — China on Thursday said it would increase its assistance. The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said that China had never intended the amount of assistance to remain fixed, and insisted that it had adjusted its contribution according to growing needs. “An overwhelming majority of Chinese people are sympathetic with the people of the Philippines,” he said.
Analysts, however, said one factor in determining the initial size of the assistance was the hostility among Chinese Internet commentators toward foreign aid, and to help for the Philippines in particular because of territorial disputes.
“There must have been a debate” inside the government about how much aid to give and how to supply it, said Qin Yaqing, professor of international studies at the Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. He continued, “Chinese culture takes an incremental way of doing things so as not to cause more trouble with the domestic” audience.
In an unusual turn, Global Times, a newspaper that often projects a nationalist editorial line, criticized the initial offer of aid as too small. In an editorial on Tuesday, it noted that the Philippines was a two-hour flight from China’s southern coast, but that countries much farther away responded quickly.
“A twisted relationship between the two countries caused by maritime disputes is not the reason to block joint efforts to combat natural disaster,” the editorial said.
Reporting was contributed by Martin Fackler from Tokyo, Jane Perlez from Beijing, Thom Shanker from Washington, Rick Gladstone from New York, and Keith Bradsher from Tacloban, the Philippines.