What Typhoon Haiyan Taught Us about China

If the Asia Pacific region ever needed a reminder of the difference between a U.S.-led order and one shaped by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the respective reactions of the two to Typhoon Haiyan is a stark one. One nation sends its navy and Marines and pledges $20 million in assistance. The other sends $100,000 in government assistance until it folds to the hectoring of the international community and increases its contribution to a still-miserly $1.6 million.

American friends and allies in the region should seriously consider the implication of this comparison. It is not an aberration.

The U.S. has made mistakes over the years. Alliances with undemocratic regimes—whether Marcos in the Philippines or Suharto in Indonesia—were often necessary in winning the Cold War. In some cases, as in Taiwan or South Korea, our embrace was a critical factor in their eventual democratization. But certainly, there were occasions when we embraced autocrats longer and more fully than necessary.

It all seems so clear now. At the time, it was not. And operating in real time, we got the details wrong on occasion. The U.S., however, has always sought to exercise a basic decency in the conduct of its foreign policy. Its electorate demands it. And in the absence of a dominant, overarching strategic context like the Cold War, the judgment calls have only gotten easier.

Take an example before Haiyan hit the Philippines. In 2008, after a cyclone hit Burma, the U.S. contributed assistance and reached out fifteen times to request permission to use its navy to maximize relief for victims. The Burmese regime refused the requests out of a combination of paranoia and its own very deeply sewn indecency. The point is that there were few countries in the world in 2008 with which the U.S. had worse relations than Burma. Yet, the U.S. went beyond the call to make the effort.

Contrast this with the PRC’s treatment of the Philippines in the midst of its 2013 disaster. Relations between the PRC and the Philippines have not been great over the last three to four years, but not nearly as bad as U.S.-Burma relations in 2008. There are no sanctions involved; the two trade with each other, maintain full diplomatic relations, interact at high levels, attend diplomatic forums together, etc. But by the regional standards of good neighborliness—particularly the PRC’s which equates rejection of its territorial claims with unfriendliness—it has been rocky. The Philippines continues to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea without apology and to persuade its friends and neighbors of its rights. Over Chinese objections, it has appealed to an international treaty—the UN Law of the Sea (to which China is also party)—to support it. By these offenses, in the eyes of the PRC leadership, it has apparently forfeited access to Chinese assistance for its disaster stricken people.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/what-typhoon-haiyan-taught-us-about-china-9417

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