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Making sense of China's meager typhoon aid

14 Comments

Faced with a devastating typhoon a mere 700 miles away, Chinese President Xi Jinping this week pledged financial support for the Philippines, as did nearly every other industrialized nation. Australia offered $30 million; the Europeans $11 million; the United Arab Emirates promised $10 million. China offered $100,000.

The media backlash was immediate. Within days, an embarrassed Beijing upped its pledge to $1.6 million. That's still less than a sixth of the total offered by Japan, China's main regional rival. In 2010, China overtook Japan as the second-biggest economy in the world.

What gives - or doesn't give, as the case may be? Why is an economy so big, a government so willing to invest abroad, and a country so eager to win favor in the region stiffing a neighbor in need? Because China is still a new enough power that it has no tradition of shelling out helpings of foreign aid - and because the Philippines is not China's favorite country at the moment.

And despite its successes, China is actually still a poor country. Its per capita income finally topped $9,000 last year, which ranks China about 90th in the world, depending on the exact measure. Nearly 130 million of its people live on less than $1.80 per day. With a renewed sense of urgency to tackle the country's many economic reform challenges, China has far too many pressing needs at home to be cutting big checks abroad.

At least, that's what its less-advantaged populations might well think. In 2008, nearly 70,000 people died in China when an earthquake struck outside the central Chinese city of Chengdu. And this year, nearly 200 died when a quake rattled the country's southwest. This is a country that struggles with its own domestic disaster relief.

Let's remember, too, that the Philippines is a former American colony. There are already hundreds of U.S. troops on the ground helping with the relief effort. There is also the small matter of the South China Sea, which the Chinese, as documented in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, want for themselves. For China, offering huge sums of money to a foreign community - especially one with which China has a beef over maritime borders - is a nonstarter.

It's easy to think that the typhoon relief effort is an opportunity to break that impasse. But just because that's how the U.S. uses foreign aid - as a tool with which to change public opinion abroad - doesn't mean China thinks the same way. It has virtually no infrastructure to push aid abroad - there's no equivalent of USAID or American nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. The mandate of China's diplomatic corps is largely determined by the work its state-owned companies do abroad. China courts favor by investing, not giving.

A rising China will lead to a radically different international response to crises over time. China says it wants a de-Americanized world, and the U.S. has lately stepped back from its traditionally activist foreign policy. But where will the world turn for disaster relief when a still-poor China has become the world's largest economy?

After the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut a year ago, a quote from legendary TV kids show host Mr. Rogers went viral:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."

What happens when the largest economy is a country that doesn't want to do the things we expect the largest economy to do?

That's a problem that extends well beyond typhoons, earthquakes and aid.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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What happens when the largest economy is a country that doesn’t want to do the things we expect the largest economy to do?

You would think that someone as well-credentialed as the author would know that a strong economy is made up of individuals who are free to choose to do what they want to do. And in the end, the contributions made by individual people will likely outweigh the "official" donations made by the various governments to aid the Philippines.

And the author's vague reference to gun control, as if the deaths of a few people by a deranged person is somehow comparable to a natural disaster which killed thousands does little to bolster his credibility. In what precise way does this have anything to do with disaster aid in general, and China in particular?

Garbage.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

garbage article

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

There is private donations coming from Hong Kong. Maybe someone overlooked that.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I was always taught give as much as you possibly can. Contribute as much as you possibly can. Money, time, energy. Just don't jeopardize yourself.

$100K is way too stingy for a country such as China. Certainly not a country to learn your code or practice to helping your fellow men and women.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Actually, the per capita income of China (according to World Bank data), is 6000$ not 9000$. Also, China donated much more to Japan after the 2011 earthqake, even though I'd say Japan is the bigger rival and generally less depenend on donations.

However, what if the Chinese government pledged a higher donation? Wouldn't they be accused of exploiting the situation? Wheter they choose to donate much or (close to) nothing at all, they won't come out good; and the latter is clearly the cheaper option, even though it's the worst for the victims.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

$100K is way too stingy for a country such as China. Certainly not a country to learn your code or practice to helping your fellow men and women

S100K may be enough for building many houses for Typhoon victims of Hanian Island who are PRC citizens. Many posters and media do not realize that Typhoon did not hit only Phillipines but also China and Vietnam. In China, damage and death were small. PRC is not interested in showing off her wallet and getting praise from media. It has been forced to add up their initial donation by the media.

Saudi Arabia which is a very wealthy nation with tiny population contibuted smilar amount of donation to Phillipines. Both Saudi and China has no obligation to donate huge amount of money if they do not want to.Both nations are not the champions of humanitarian support. They are not attention seekers too.

Donation should comes from sincerity and good will. Not from external pressure.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

sangetsu03Nov. 17, 2013 - 11:36AM JST You would think that someone as well-credentialed as the author would know that a strong economy is made up of >individuals who are free to choose to do what they want to do.

" “Do you think China should aid the Philippines?” Within roughly 24 hours, over 160,000 persons had cast their vote: An overwhelming 84% of them said that they do not support aid to the Philippines."

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/11/16/84_of_chinese_netizens_dont_support.php

2 ( +2 / -0 )

China offered $100,000.

pff...no surprise.

Chinese love free potluck, free church lunch, and free of everything. But when it comes to their own wallet, they keep it tight. I suppose moral/morale teaching in humanity has been left out since the cultural revolution. Life is too cheap in China. This is a biggest challenge of China today.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

" “Do you think China should aid the Philippines?” Within roughly 24 hours, over 160,000 persons had cast their vote: An overwhelming 84% of them said that they do not support aid to the Philippines."

Check and see how much money was donated by individuals to the Red Cross for aid to the Philippines, the numbers will be available soon. Or look and see how many donated through Google or Yahoo.

As fo China, if the remaining 16% donate, it is still a significant number. 16% of China is enough to populate the Philippines a few times over.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Chinese love free potluck, free church lunch, and free of everything

PRC is a capitalist economy with lacking the free lunch, free medicare and free propaganda. In USA there is 30% of adult population can survive with free food vouchers. In China, iron rice bowl introduced by Mao was a distant memory. If you can supply free lunch information from PRC, I will donate my free lunch to typhoon victims.

Life is too cheap in China.

Life in Shanghai is more expensive than west which have some form of social and charity support. However if they reintroduce the leftist socialist economy of west to China again, it will be just the castle of sand. Imagine they have 1.3 billion people to feed, cloth and educate.

This is a biggest challenge of China today.

In my opinion, air pollution is the biggest challenge for them. No one can stop breathing.

Typhoon hit the Hainan Island of China too. Although it was not big enough as Philippines, they are the disaster victims too. Understandably, Victim can not help much other victim.

http://www.internationalpolicydigest.org/2013/11/16/understanding-chinas-underwhelming-response-to-typhoon-haiyan/

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

in addition to the dispute, china just doesn't consider the philippines to have sufficient power in the region to make it worth their while to donate to sway public opinion. note they promptly raised the amount to a more respectable level when they where shamed for offering almost nothing...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"China was clearly stung by the critical news coverage. South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na herself gave $100,000"

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/11/17/commentary/china-may-long-regret-miserly-typhoon-aid-offer/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Regarding the other countries' pledges, it's well known that countries often pledge large amounts but never actually send it. That doesn't let China and its paltry amount off the hook but it's worth keeping in mind. I'd like to see how much really gets handed over by these countries. Also, money is no good if reconstruction doesn't get started quickly, so I was pleased to see Japan send ships and JSDF over there to physically help.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Regarding the other countries' pledges, it's well known that countries often pledge large amounts but never actually send it

While I don't claim to know everything, I havent heard of this. If it really is "often" then you'll have no problem providing just four examples, right? We'll use the Tohoku Earthquake as your source. If this happens "often" then you should easily be able to come up with four "large amounts" pledged by individual governments but never delivered to Japan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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