China not only nation to put politics before relief

By Richard Hall

When images of destruction and chaos begin to emerge in the wake of a natural disaster, pledges of aid and financial support from the international community usually follow.

But politics can often get in the way and even damage on the scale wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is sometimes not enough to prompt a softening of a difficult diplomatic relationship between two countries.

A case in point: China, the world's second-largest economy, announced that it would send US$200,000 ($241,000) to help with the relief effort in the Philippines. Compare that with US$24 million pledged by Britain, the US$4 million by the Vatican, Japan's US$10 million and New Zealand's US$1.9 million, and the offer begins to looks less like a gesture of goodwill and more like a slap in the face.

The reason for its woeful donation is not that China is less caring - it gave nearly US$5 million to help Pakistan recover from an earthquake two months ago - but is due to a collection of rocky islands in the South China Sea.

Both nations stake a claim to the rocks and China has in recent months become more assertive in solidifying its control over the islands.

China is not the only one to put politics before relief. The politicisation of aid is an area of intense debate in disaster management.

"People assume that the world sets aside its political wrangling and help each other out at times of disaster," says Dr Lucy Easthope, a disaster-management specialist at the University of Lincoln.

"It isn't like that at all. It almost always comes with strings attached. It's hugely political."

On occasion, poor relations between nations can lead to a refusal of much-needed aid in the aftermath of a disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, Cuba offered to send 1586 doctors and 26 tonnes of medicine for relief. The offer was declined by the US State Department.

And is it all down to numbers? When it comes to humanitarian aid, the US is the largest donor, with an estimated US$3.8 billion last year.

But it is also the richest. Some might argue that China, as a developing country blighted by poverty itself, should not be compared with Japan and the UK in terms of the amount it gives.

Luxembourg gave the most in humanitarian aid last year as a percentage of GDP (0.16 per cent). Sweden and Turkey came second and third respectively.

- Independent

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