(Reuters) Following Typhoon Haiyan's devastating effect on the Philippines, the Chinese government is sending its hospital ship, the "Peace Ark," to aid displaced victims.
Members of the medical crew stand at the inpatient room inside their Chinese Navy hospital ship Peace Ark before its departure from a navy base in Zhoushan, east of Shanghai, China, on a relief mission to the Philippines, on Thursday, Nov 21, 2013. Military flags fluttered in the wind aboard China's navy hospital ship Peace Ark as it began a goodwill mission to the Philippines on Thursday, nearly two weeks after the Southeast Asian country was struck by a devastating typhoon that killed more than 4,000 people. -- PHOTO: AP
In response to Typhoon Haiyan, which has claimed the lives of over 4,000 people, and has left millions homeless in the Philippines, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the country will be sending a hospital ship to aid victims who have lost homes and family members. The so-called “Peace Ark” is expected to set sail on Thursday, however, 16 members of the Red Cross Society of China were dispatched on Wednesday to areas with the largest devastation due to weather conditions.
“The 51-member emergency medical team sent by the Chinese government will set off within the next few days,” Foreign Ministry Representative Hong Lei said during a press conference on Wednesday. “The Red Cross Society of China will send an international rescue team to the disaster-hit areas in two groups. China will also dispatch the naval hospital ship, "Peace Ark," to join the relief effort in the disaster-hit areas.”
The Chinese government has been subject to heavy criticism for a lack luster effort to help typhoon victims in the aftermath of the Nov. 8 disaster. The relationship between China and the Philippines has been strained following territorial disputes over the South China Sea, The New York Times reported. China offered the services of its “state-of-the-art hospital ship” on Monday, which the Filipino Health Ministry graciously accepted.
With one of the largest economies in the world, second only to the United States, China announced that it would be donating $200,000 when the disaster initially occurred. The country recently changed its donation to $1.6 million, following an outcry from both international and domestic entities. Publications that usually support the communist state, such as the government owned People’s Daily, and its publishing asset the Global Times, have come out in protest against Beijing’s lethargic response.
“China has been following closely the typhoon disaster in the Philippines. It is reported that the disaster has injured about 20,000 people and left the disaster-hit areas lacking in doctors and medicine,” Lei added. “We have got the confirmation after coordinating with the Philippines and will send relief workers to the disaster-hit areas to provide humanitarian medical assistance in the spirit of healing the wounded and rescuing the dying. It reflects the Chinese people's goodwill toward the Philippine people.”
Philippine aid controversy shows powers jostling for regional dominance
Besides the initial emergency fund of $100,000 and the $100,000 in aid offered by the Red Cross Society of China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China has pledged another 10 million yuan ($1.63 million) of rescue material to Manila on Thursday.
Washington is not shy to promote its rescue efforts to one of its important allies in Southeast Asia, with the aircraft carrier George Washington dispatched and $20 million offered, plus marines and sailors to distribute food and medicine. Japan also sent a high-profile rescue team including warships and 1,180 Self-Defense Forces members. Both countries have extensive experience in disaster relief work.
Rescue effort of Haiyan has particular political concern beside natural sympathy to the victims. Attention to the disaster relief to the typhoon stricken Philippines has reflected the rivalry among major powers for the regional dominant role.
Since Washington's pivot to the Asia-Pacific region in 2011, the South China Sea, among other areas, has witnessed escalating tension.
Alongside China's growing regional influence, Washington has to stress its ability to provide security to its allies to secure its influence in Southeast Asia. It becomes more urgent after President Barack Obama missed two important regional meetings in October and questions were raised about US commitment to its traditional allies.
Though on a humanitarian aid mission, the arrival of aircraft carrier George Washington has a strong symbolic meaning, as it signals US military presence and deployment ability in this strategically important region.
Japan, increasingly isolated in East Asia, is taking rescue efforts to strengthen its diplomacy in Southeast Asia, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has emphasized since the beginning of his current term. It is also a way for Japan to demonstrate its status as a regional power.
China's aid to the Philippines was criticized as "meager" and not matching its economic power. In the future, China will face increasing pressure to take more responsibilities in regional affairs.
For both the government and the public, there is a learning curve. Foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang remarked on Thursday that China's rescue aid to the Philippines is not a "one-time deal" and will correspond to the post-disaster situation.
Domestically, the Chinese public is tilting against sending rescue aid overseas. An online survey conducted by Sina News, following Chinese government's announcement of further aid, indicated that more than 65.3 percent of the people taking the poll believed the additional aid amount was more than enough, while 9.4 percent thought the figure was less than appropriate.
Some hold that sending aid to foreign countries is premature for a country still plagued by its own development problems. There are also voices opposing political factor affecting humanitarian support.
However, the case with Manila, a staunching ally of Washington's pivot policy, is more complicated not just because of the lasting row over the disputed Huangyan Island.
The Philippine government's incompetent performance in the hostage crisis in 2010 which killed eight Hong Kong tourists, the Aquino administration's stubborn refusal to apologize and failure to deliver proper compensation for that incident, and the Philippine Coast Guard shooting dead a Taiwanese fisherman this May all soured the Chinese public's perception toward their neighbor in the south.
Sending military force for overseas humanitarian aid is still a relatively new mission for China. The security dilemmas sparked by the expanding military footprint is a concern for Chinese authorities.
China's rise will be bound to be a bumpy process, and the controversy surrounding disaster aid to the Philippines attests to that.
Contributed By Guan Yan
The author is a commentator with the Global Times
Japanese troops welcomed back in typhoon-hit Philippines
Japanese troops welcomed back in typhoon-hit Philippines
Tacloban (Philippines) (AFP) - More than 1,000 Japanese troops were offered a warm welcome in the Philippines Friday as they prepared to launch relief operations across typhoon-devastated islands that were brutally occupied by Japan seven decades ago.
They will join a huge international relief effort to help survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which flattened dozens of towns through the central Philippines on November 8, leaving at least 5,500 dead or missing.
"We have already delivered small amounts of aid but the main effort will begin after a meeting with Philippine forces today," Takashi Inoue, deputy director of public affairs with the Japanese embassy in Manila, told AFP.
Japan's contribution to the humanitarian effort comes as a newly-confident Tokyo looks to make its mark again on the world order, after decades in which the idea of its troops on foreign soil was complete anathema.
In many parts of Asia, memories linger of the brutality of invading Japanese soldiers prosecuting an expansionist romp through the region in the name of the emperor.
In a twist of historic irony, the Japanese troops are returning to areas of the Philippines that saw Japan lose one of history's biggest naval battles to the US-led Allies.
Eulalia Macaya, 74, who survived World War II and the typhoon, said she remembered being terrified by Japanese troops as a little girl.
"We were hiding in holes dug under the floor of our homes," she recalled. "The Japanese soldiers were patrolling but we couldn't see much of them. We could only see their boots. We were so afraid."
But Macaya, who was waiting for treatment at a temporary field clinic set up by the Japanese government in Tacloban, the typhoon-ruined capital of Leyte, said she was very pleased the former occupier was back.
"I don't hold any grudges anymore. There's no more bad blood between us," she said.
Tente Quintero, 72, a former vice mayor of Tacloban, said that at a time of dispute with an increasingly emboldened China over the ownership of South China Sea islands, Filipinos now saw the Japanese as friends and allies.
He declared himself "happy" there were Japanese boots back on Philippines soil.
"There's nothing like two allies living in harmony with each other," he said.
Beatrice Bisquera, 91, said the devastation and hardships Haiyan had brought were worse than anything Filipinos suffered under Japanese military rule.
"During the Japanese occupation we just hid in the mountains. Now, there's nowhere to hide," she told AFP.
General Roy Deveraturda, Commanding General of the Philippine armed forces Central Command, said the Philippines was thankful for the Japanese typhoon support, and past animosities were no longer a concern.
"This is a different world. We have seen the generosity of their donation," he told AFP.
"They have already showed remorse. Their help is most welcome."
For some Japanese relief workers already on the ground in Leyte, their country's participation in the international relief effort alongside the United States is an indication of Japan's very different relationship with the outside world.
"Nearly 70 years ago, we were enemies. Now we're friends," said Joji Tomioka, a doctor helping to coordinate a civilian medical team.
"We cannot forget the past, but we must learn from history so that we will not do the same thing again."