US quick response to Philippines typhoon undoes damage of Obama’s East Asia Summit no-show

Or at least, that’s the take from one Asia-watcher, Rory Medcalf, who, writing in the WSJ, calls the international response to the disaster a “potential inflection point in the contest for influence” in the region.

“The rapid and large-scale response already underway by US military forces is sending a signal that will be noticed across the region. It will give new meaning to the rebalance to Asia, at a time when some were starting to question Washington’s commitment. This will more than compensate for President Barack Obama’s absence from the East Asia Summit in Brunei last month.”


Medcalf observes that even the Communist Party-leaning Global Times has warned the Chinese government to be more generous and active in relief for the disaster. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese reverse course.

The Japanese are using it as an opportunity to generate goodwill. The Australians have been uncharacteristically generous. The British have sent a ship. Even Israel has sent 148 search and rescue people. In a region where perceptions matter so much, many countries are going out of their way to make gestures, to be seen, to be perceived as active and welcome.

China’s paltry aid for the Philippines

China so far has offered $100,000 in post-typhoon aid for the Philippines (plus another $100,000 through China’s Red Cross), far less than the $20 million from the US, $10 million from Japan and Australia each with those countries also sending rescue crews and air support. Even global bank HSBC is offering $1 million.

China’s stinginess is of course related to the ongoing dispute with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal, which Manila has sent on to a UN maritime tribunal.

Reuters points out that lots of popular opinion in China is against offering aid:

Comments on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, overwhelmingly opposed China giving aid to the Philippines. “For God’s sake, give them nothing,” wrote one user. “We’ve given them enough in the past.”

Beijing’s behavior hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international community. And its fairly heartless response (clashing with notions of China the powerful and prosperous) puts China’s schoolyard pettiness on display. The undiplomatic attitude is not limited to China’s neighbors, either.

China is still upset at Norway over the Nobel Prize being awarded to Liu Xiaobo. Britain has only recently exited the Chinese doghouse, too, after PM David Cameron dared meet with the Dalai Lama.

It’s for this reason the Daily Telegraph’s Iain Martin opines:

This latest ethical and practical failure of leadership by China is another illustration of the way in which the country is struggling with its responsibilities as a growing global power. We must hope the situation improves as its economic power grows, and it might. Perhaps the Chinese elite will come to wear its power lightly and modestly; or perhaps not. In the interim, the governments of Western countries should avoid getting too starry eyed about China. Although the UK government should be trying to improve trade with the country, ministers should not be demeaning themselves, behaving like travelling salesmen and pushing deals at any cost. A little scepticism and realism about the limits of China’s modern miracle wouldn’t go amiss.

Typhoon Haiyan puts US credibility in South China Sea on the line

The US Marines are heading to the Philippines to help after Super Typhoon Haiyan, providing the US with an opportunity to make good on its promise that the Asian Pivot isn’t all about containing China.

The US has contended it’s about more engagement in the region. And for it’s military deployments, that means a readiness to
help in disaster relief. Hence, the quick response from the Marines after the typhoon. Add to the mix the fact that the
Philippines and the US are wrangling over who has access to the US temporary bases, the US must show the government it’s a
partner, not a colonist.

Of course, the Philippines are keen for US military presence, or hard power, to offset the growing tensions with China over the Scarlborough Shoal.

Typhoon Haiyan, US, China, Marines, South china Sea, Philippines