The Swedish furniture chain Ikea is giving more financial aid to thePhilippines than China following the category 5 typhoon that hit the country last week.
The world’s second-largest economy has pledged less than $2m in cash and materials, compared to $20m provided by the United States, which also launched a massive military-driven rescue operation that includes an aircraft carrier.
Another Chinese rival, Japan, has pledged $10m and offered to send troops, ships and planes. Australia is giving $28m, and even Ikea’s offer of $2.7m through its charitable foundation beats that of China.
China’s reluctance to give more, driven by a row with Manila over overlapping claims in the South China Sea, dents its global image at a time when it is vying with Washington for regional influence.
“China has missed an excellent opportunity to show itself as a responsible power and to generate goodwill,” said Zheng Yongnian, a China politics expert at the National University of Singapore. “They still lack strategic thinking.”
The decline of American influence in Asia, with China filling the vacuum, has been predicted for years. Asian nations have become increasingly dependent on China’s booming economy to purchase their exports, and Chinese companies are increasingly providers of investment and employment.
Yet China lags far behind the US in soft power, the winning of hearts and minds through culture, education and other non-traditional forms of diplomacy, of which emergency assistance is a major component.
Despite Chinese academics’ frequent promotion of soft power, Chinese leaders don’t really get it, said Zheng. Instead, they continue to rely on the levers of old-fashioned major-nation diplomacy based on economic and military might. “They still think they can get their way through coercion,” Zheng said.
China’s donations to Philippines include $100,000 each from the government and the Chinese Red Cross, and it is sending an additional $1.64m worth of tents, blankets and other goods.
Though Beijing’s territorial claims overlap with Vietnam and others, it has singled out the Philippines, apparently because of Manila’s energetic assertions of its own claims. Beijing was enraged by Manila’s decision to send the dispute to international arbitration and constantly rails against its close military alliance with the US.
China’s generosity with the Philippines hasn’t entirely dried up. It pledged $80,000 to the Philippines last month following a major earthquake there, in addition to this week’s pledges. And the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, expressed his sympathy to his Philippine counterpart, Benigno Aquino, in the latest disaster, although a five full days later and without mentioning assistance.
Zhu Feng, an international relations expert at Peking University, said the amount donated “reflects the political deadlock, if not outright hostility, between the two countries. The political atmosphere is the biggest influence.”
An additional factor could be that China is a relative newcomer to overseas disaster relief. The country sent tents and a medical mission to the hardest-hit Aceh province in Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and government and public donations were in the millions of dollars.
Since then, China’s participation has been mainly limited to assisting its close ally Pakistan with flood and earthquake relief and some help to foreign nationals fleeing Libya during an unprecedented mission to evacuate 30,000 of its citizens from the war-torn nation.
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