Typhoon Haiyan: China rebuked for 'stingy' aid

A US Marine loads supplies bound for typhoon victims onto a helicopter.

China has been criticised for its clumsy approach to aid in the aftermath of the Philippines disaster, and some US analysts think it could affect the geopolitical balance in South East Asia.

China initially pledged $100,000 (£62,000) in humanitarian support - and later raised the amount to $1.6m. But even this amount is still dwarfed by contributions from Australia, the US, the European Union, the United Kingdom and even the Swedish furniture company Ikea, which pledged $2.7m.

The initial Chinese reluctance to provide a significant amount of aid has also made it the butt of late-night comedy jokes, as Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report called the Chinese "stingy jerks" and asked his viewers to outraise the nation's initial donation - a feat they accomplished by this afternoon.

In other words, the damage to China's international reputation is significant.

In a Bloomberg View column, William Pesek quotes Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group in New York, regarding the challenge for China if it wants to supplant the US as the power in the region: "It's very hard to call for… de-Americanisation and then leave your wallet at home when there's a human disaster the scale of the typhoon in the Philippines."

Mr Pesek sees this as a larger problem with the way China approaches foreign policy:

One reason China's efforts to develop its soft power have failed is the utilitarian way Beijing approaches the rest of the world. Instead of using culture, adept diplomacy and trashy movies to seduce other countries, China hands out cold, hard cash. All the investment poured into railways in Indonesia, tunnels in Brazil, power grids in Cambodia, hydroelectric projects in Laos, bridges in Vietnam, roads in Zambia, factories in Malaysia, airports in Myanmar, and mining rigs in Uzbekistan comes with a high cost. In return, China demands complete docility. That's the message being sent to the Philippines now.

Only a month ago, China held court at an Asian summit, while President Obama sat at home due to the US government shutdown. Now, some analysts are writing, the United States has a new opportunity to make friends and influence nations.

According to Jonah Blank of the Rand Corporation, the United States can build on the regional goodwill it engendered following the 2004 Asian tsunami: "Nearly a decade later, the effort may rank as one of the most concrete reasons South East Asian nations trust the long-term US commitment to a strategy of 'Asian rebalancing.'"

Sydney J Freedburg writes for Breaking Defense that even if China wanted to help, it could not respond in the same way the US has. The Chinese Navy simply does not have the transport capacity and facilities of the US Navy.

"Those facts represent a major US advantage not only in this one incident in the Philippines but in the long-term struggle for influence across the Western Pacific," he writes.

Aside from humanitarian aid, one concrete way the US could help, according to Craig Hooper in the Next Navy blog, is to resupply Philippines and Vietnamese outposts on South China Sea islands, which have been under effective Chinese blockade.

"Rather than wait for China to seize the islands," Mr Hooper writes, "it is time for the US to get out there, do a safety check, help the Filipino soldiers build up some MRE [meals ready to eat] stockpiles, refresh their communications equipment, and, if possible, arrange safer, more habitable living arrangements."

All of this has Chinese media, which had previously been a bit fragmented on how to address the humanitarian crisis, sounding defensive.

"Those China bashers must harbour ill intentions, aimed at either tarnishing China's image in the world arena or sowing further seeds of discord between China and the Philippines - as if the territorial dispute was not enough," writes the state-run China Daily.

(From reports provided by BBC Monitoring)