The Philippines has become a melting pot of foreign military troops, medical workers and international NGOs nearly two weeks since Typhoon Haiyan leveled hundreds of homes and swept whole villages. Even as more foreign government raced to reach out to the storm-battered nation, China ostensibly held back.
The utter devastation in Tacloban city and neighboring towns has prompted an urgent appeal from the United Nations for $301 million in aid. While China was among the first countries to pledge assistance—it announced it was giving just $200,000—the amount was substantially less than other countries such as the US and Japan.
On Wednesday, China decided to step up its response to the disaster, announcing it was sending relief workers and its state-of-the-art hospital ship. Beijing also more than tripled its pledge to $1.6 million.
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing confirmed the deployment of the 14,000-ton “Peace Ark,” a floating hospital with 300 beds and eight operating theaters, to join an international flotilla of naval ships now delivering food, water and medicine to typhoon victims.
“China has always been concerned about the Philippines typhoon disaster,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “In the spirit of helping the dying and healing the injured, we plan to send rescue workers to the disaster area.”
A Chinese cargo plane carrying tents and blankets has landed in Cebu city on Tuesday.
“The Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development head has said the Chinese relief goods are very useful,” Chinese embassy Wu Zhenping told broadcaster CCTV.
The United States, China’s long-time rival, has been on the forefront of humanitarian and relief efforts in the Philippines, mobilizing about 50 ships and aircraft. US helicopters were bringing supplies to hard to reach areas while its cargo planes ferry survivors out of Tacloban to Manila or Cebu in so-called mercy flights. It has announced more than $37 million in humanitarian aid.
Beijing is embroiled in a territorial row with Manila on the sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea.
By Maesie Bertumen