Saturday, November 16, 2013

China and the Phillipines: Humanitarian Aid

A week after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, the Chinese have been bit players in the response, with an initial pledge of 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) in-kind aid, and $200,000 in cash. Is this all we can expect? Probably not. Yet while all the news stories on the meager Chinese donations usually note that China has "the world's second largest economy," they usually fail to put China's generosity (or lack) into context. Context helps to understand Chinese actions in two ways.

First, any donation should properly be judged against not against a country's absolute wealth but in relation to its wealth and population: i.e. wealth on a per capita basis. Seen from this perspective, China falls to #92 in the list of prosperity (using the World Bank's measure of 2012 GDP/pc, or per capita, PPP). With a per capita GDP of $9,233, the Chinese are far less wealthy than the countries that have contributed the most to the relief effort, so far: the UK ($32 million, $36,950 GDP/pc), Australia ($30 million; $44,598 GDP/pc), and the US ($20 million; $49,965 GDP/pc). (Many of these countries have also pledged in-kind assistance). Still, the response could have been more generous. Indeed, as I outline below, a historical perspective shows just how paltry the Chinese response has been so far, and how much it likely has to do with Chinese bitterness about the Philippine's recent actions in the South China Seas.

Second, China has been more generous in other humanitarian disasters. China is not a new player at humanitarian aid. Shipments of food in times of famine are a familiar element in Chinese assistance. The Chinese Red Cross has been providing disaster aid since at least 1981.  In 1985, the Chinese Red Cross raised $5 million for famine relief in Africa. After the Haiti earthquake, the Chinese pledged over $7 million in cash assistance.

History helps put China's paltry assistance to the Philippines into perspective. Below is a section from my book on China's aid program, The Dragon's Gift, pp. 121-122.
... [Over the past decades,] China has given bilateral earthquake relief to Algeria and Iran, mud avalanche relief to the Philippines, tents, mosquito nets, and blankets to Iraq and Somalia, and even donated $5 million after the Katrina hurricane disaster in the United States...
... Today, China’s humanitarian aid has greatly increased, consistent with Beijing’s relatively new desire to project itself as a “responsible major power.” It is also increasingly being channeled multilaterally, as in Zimbabwe’s 2009 drought, when the Chinese made a $5 million cash donation to support WFP [World Food Program] operations.

This new multilateralism began during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. At first, China reacted unilaterally, as its foreign emergency response mechanism swung into motion. Wang Hanjiang, then head of the Department of Foreign Aid, met quickly with his counterpart in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to map out the first steps in China’s response. After getting approval from the State Council, they called in the Foreign Affairs Office of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which carried out the tasks.

The Chinese were proud that a planeload of supplies from China was the first foreign aid to arrive in Sri Lanka, flown directly from a Beijing factory only two days after the disaster. Chinese medical teams and engineers were posted to a number of countries struck by the tidal wave. But then China publicly pledged more than $60 million, and channeled almost a third of this through the UN – a first. (Some in the region speculated that China’s historic response was partly done to outgun Taiwan, which had pledged $50 million for the recovery effort.) Private citizens in China donated more than $61 million through the Chinese Red Cross and the China Charity Federation. With the disaster of the Pakistan earthquake following the tsunami, China’s official bilateral humanitarian aid for 2005 ultimately totaled nearly $128 million, with NGOs and Chinese companies raising an almost equal amount.
I anticipate that Chinese aid to the Philippines will rise, but Beijing will not be able to easily play down the conclusion that their response to this disaster was stingy, and petty.


  1. Trends. ...
    As I always repeat; look at the trend ....
    I can't read Mandarin, others though ....
    But I know how people in China think about aid to the Philippines, or at least what is published in English on the social media ....
    It is not very nice ....
    This is unfortunately the general trend over the last decades ....
    And it has little to do with the South China Sea ....
    Or what have the Indonesians done to China? Or the Pakistani, or the people of the Horn of Africa? (some examples of earthquakes, tsunami or famine that I remember and where China was looking the other way) ....
    And yes, I respect what is in your book, but I folow the worldnews and I have a memory and in 2005 lot of presscomments where surprised that it was the US aid who was quick and massive in Pakistan, a close neighbour and friend of China……
    more or less as you can find here;

    That the Chinese have become eager consumers before they ever became world citizens is aptly illustrated by the fact that China is ranked 147th in the World Giving Index. Granted; there are still six countries that did worse ...
    And oh yes, the Philippines are on the 50th place. …

    That nowadays solidarity in China is limited to the family and excludes all “strangers” was illustrated this week in Beijing when a woman who got stuck in a guardrail and was braindead after half an hour….
    as strange as it looks to us, it happend in a very public area and with lots of indifferent passersby….

  2. As I can see, Deborah, there are a lot of axe grinders visiting your excellent blog

    China's (as you put it) _stingy_ response to the Philippines disaster should be viewed not only on the China - Philippine bilateral relationship but rather, how Chinese view "aid"

    Chinese, as a race (and yes, I am a Chinese), view "aid" as something shameful

    If you receive "aid" from someone, you shame yourself in doing so

    If you give "aid" to someone else, you make them shameful

    That is the traditional view of Chinese on "aid" --- and if you are to look at how the First Generation (and I emphasis on the *FIRST GENERATION*) of Chinese immigrants to the United States, you would find that most of them refuse to receive any financial aid, even when they qualified

    The fact that most of the Chinese who immigrated to America between the 1940's to the 1970's end up *stuck* inside the "China Towns" is an indication that the Chinese, especially those who are poor, did not seek any aid from the government, and prefer to toil in the extra-low-wage, almost slavery condition working in the Chinese restaurants inside the China Towns.

    Unlike other immigrants from other countries (such as the Italians, the Irish, the Jews), you can hardly find records of Chinese immigrants applying or receiving official aids from the government of the United States of America in between the 1940's and 1970's.

    If the Chinese are so "stingy" of giving aid even to their own kinds (yes, they will watch you die of hunger if you do not ask for food, that's the Chinese way, but if you watch it via a Western viewpoint, it's more than horrible, but that's another story), what makes you think that the Chinese will be generous when others, such as the Philippines, are in troubles ?

    Deborah, next time, if someone got an axe to grind, would you be kind enough to ask a Chinese friend of yours to share his/her opinion ?

    Thank you !