January 05, 2005

You are on the invidual archive page of Shooting below its weight. Click Simon World weblog for the main page.
Shooting below its weight

I was going to write today about China's lamentable efforts in the wake of the tsunami disaster but Michael Moran of MSNBC beat me to it. His article, China fails the tsunami test, is worth a read. China's pretentions to being a world or even regional power are found wanting at times like this. Some excerpts:

At a time when tens of thousands in its neighborhood were at risk of starvation, dehydration and disease, China’s focus was right where it has been for centuries: China...With the exception of the American 7th Fleet, based in Japan, China maintains the largest amphibious force in the region, a force with precisely the kind of ships desperately needed in parts of the region rendered inaccessible by the battering waves...So why are the Chinese still at their moorings?

The answer is complicated by China’s historic policy of “non-interfere” in the internal affairs of its neighbors, and in some places — India, in particular — by historic suspicions and resentments built up over centuries of rivalry. But China's low profile also speaks volumes about the gap between its rhetoric, which stresses it’s coming of age as a great power in Asia, and the reality of China’s inward-oriented foreign policy...More seriously for China, it casts light at an inconvenient time on a somewhat cynical game the Chinese government has been playing for years: soaking up billions in aid and interest free development loans from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other NGOs, even as it has grown into the seventh largest economy in the world...

Within hours of the disaster, India – China’s near equal in terms of population and economic growth – told the world it did not need disaster relief for the time being, suggesting such money be diverted to poorer nations. What’s more, India dispatched navy ships and cargo aircraft to its devastated cousins in Sri Lanka, immediately staking a claim for itself in the “core” group of donor nations...

But coaxing China out of the somewhat paranoid shell through which it has viewed the world for centuries is in the longer term interest of the United States and Asia. Had China, on Dec. 27, announced that its naval transports planned joint relief operations with Japan or the U.S. fleet instead of war games with Russia, an important line would have been crossed. Unfortunately, for China, Asia and the world, Beijing just can’t see the logic – yet.

Exactly right. Here was an opportunity for China to show the world it is ready to take its seat at the top table of nations, to be a true world power. But instead of accepting the responsabilities that come with it, China would rather engage the world on its own terms. But the world doesn't work like that - you can't cherry-pick being a world power, such as attending G8 meetings, without accepting the burdens that go with it. But further than that, China missed an opportunity to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Until China can learn the meaning of altruism, it will never be the power it aspires to being.

Update: Glenn Reynolds points to an IHT article on the same lines.

For a contrast, Joe has a summary of the current US effort. These efforts along with the NGOs such as the Red Cross are stunning in their efficiency. By contrast, the UN's efforts to date seem almost a parody. Why is it whenever the UN gets a chance to show the good it can to, it squanders it?

Update 2: It appears China has sent some aid to the affected countries. It seems to have come out of the Foreign Affairs Department with limited involvement of the PLA so far. China could and should be doing more, but it's a start.

posted by Simon on 01.05.05 at 10:08 AM in the


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Send a manual trackback ping to this post.

Excerpt: Simon has a post on something I'd been wondering about myself: China. As in, what has it been doing while the great powers of the world are pouring money and personnel into helping its disaster-stricken neighbors to the south? He...
Weblog: The White Peril
Tracked: January 5, 2005 12:54 PM

Chinese tsunami relief aid- not enough?
Excerpt: I'm writing this because I'm upset about the way public donations to the tsunami relief effort have been politicized. While this politicization has been successful in raising the overall level of monetary support for those in need, it's all done in ter...
Weblog: METANOIAC! a weblog from China
Tracked: January 5, 2005 07:12 PM

Tsunami Delusions and Aftermath
Excerpt: The 12/26 tsunami is not the story of a freak act of God. Its a statistical blip, which is exacerbating a man-made travesty of justice in more than one country. The uncritical outpouring of donations by admirably-intended, but naive, and perhaps oblivi...
Weblog: Duophony
Tracked: January 5, 2005 07:53 PM

These things are not the same
Excerpt: My thoughts on the Chinese Government's inadequate response to the tsunami crisis has generated some debate. One commenter said my comments are an insult to the Chinese people. That's a common comeback when anyone makes a comment on China. The problem ...
Weblog: Simon World
Tracked: January 6, 2005 11:05 AM

Arms and diplomacy along the ring of fire
Excerpt: I haven't seen this on Reuters or CNN yet, but maybe I just haven't wandered into it. The Japanese Yomiuri says the following: General Leon LaPorte, the commander of US forces stationed in South Korea, addressed the Senate Armed Services...
Weblog: The White Peril
Tracked: March 9, 2005 10:54 AM


China bashing is a full-time occupation, where there are always opportunities no matter what China does. So here, they are condemned for not sending the fleet out. What if they did? Remember that when the Chinese fleet showed upon in Hong Kong (a part of China) last year, New York Times and the US Congress denounced this as interference. So if the Chinese fleet showed up offshore from Aceh, what would the wackos from the American Enterprises Institute say? Definitive proof of imperial aspirations because this is a departure from historial non-interference? Time for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against against the Red Menace?

posted by: eswn on 01.05.05 at 12:49 PM [permalink]

That doesn't wash. The Indonesians were no fans of either Australians nor Americans, yet they are happily accepting military and other help from both. In circumstances such as this I don't think anyone would consider it a Red Menace. It would be considered China doing the right thing, helping its neighbours and acting like the power it wants to be.

Are you seriously saying that China's inaction is excusable? China bashing is a full time job because often its actions (or inaction) open itself to criticism. America bashing is also a full time profession. No country is perfect. But China has fallen far short this time.

posted by: Simon on 01.05.05 at 01:08 PM [permalink]

I think it will be interesting to see how this plays out--to see if indeed China's contributions are very small. I may be completely mistaken, but I don't think China has ever had really comfortable relations with Indonesia.

That aside, what are the macroeconomic numbers like these days? What could China really afford per capita? I guess the US pledge would be something like $1.50 per capita, but that's really not a stretch for Americans. I think it would be wrong to expect that kind of scale from China where the average income per capita in US dollars is far, far lower.

I don't know much about the Chinese navy, but I do know it's pretty crummy. Maybe it's second after the US, but it's a very distant second.

Also, there are probably political reasons that Japan is spending so much money on this, and I don't just mean because they have a history in the region. Couldn't their pledge be seen as just an effort to knock China off its stride in the region--to make China lose face? They're still the ones who are rich, and China is the one just starting to get off the developmental aid.

I'm not sure if I've been clear and concise here, but I see little good in criticizing China for not doing enough. Geopolitically, I think it's obvious that they'd want to do more, but they probably just can't match the scale of the developed world.

What are your thoughts, Simon?

posted by: Matt Waters on 01.05.05 at 01:31 PM [permalink]

On balance, I think it is better for China not to send troops. In fact, India is already grumbing about US sending troops to its influence zone. US may be thinking it is doing a good thing. I am not sure whether locals will like it.

posted by: steve on 01.05.05 at 01:38 PM [permalink]

I disagree, Matt. As the article says, look at the contrast between India's reaction and China's. Even though India was hit they offered help to others and rejected aid, saying other countries needed it more. India is far less wealthy than China. Even if the Chinese navy isn't that great, some kind of effort needs to be made. Yes China has donated money despite its limited capacity to donate. But otherwise they've done nothing.

Sure Japan is spending money for political reasons. That should be an even greater incentive for China to act. China can help with airlifting, transport, setting up infrastructure. Sometimes grumbles about "spheres of influence" have to be set aside while the humanitarian disaster is sorted. No-one from Turkey seemed worried about Greek help during their earthquake, nor vice-versa. Sometimes help is simply that.

As I said in the post, that's where China has failed. In failing the altruism test, China has failed its ambitions. The historical and geopolitical reasons are irrelevant. China had a chance to act, to do some good and enhance its standing. By their inactions they've condemned themselves.

posted by: Simon on 01.05.05 at 01:46 PM [permalink]

I find the comparison with India misleading, though it's obviously written by a very clever author.

I also don't clearly understand your point. India is less wealthy and sent ships (no money). China is richer and sent money (no ships). It doesn't make sense to draw an argument about not committing ships from the fact that they have more money.

China didn't have the "opportunity" to turn down aid "for the time-being" and it has sent support, just not the same kind.

Certainly India will send hard support to Sri Lanka. And if something happened like this in Taiwan, China would do the same. My point is that the respective pairs of countries have a shared sense of identity.

There's not enough detail here to come down so hard on China even if--as you say--it's warranted.

What are the ships that are "precisely needed" mentioned here? I know that China's navy doesn't have the proper ships to launch a ground invasion of Taiwan--those used for transport--so it's obviously not "that kind."

Also, how about some numbers?

Here we are criticizing people in the midst of a disaster. That's not so selfless, especially if one acknowleges that geopolotics are playing a role, is it?

posted by: Matt Waters on 01.05.05 at 02:19 PM [permalink]

Transport ships are precicely what are needed at the moment, as well as helicopters and other methods of transporting aid and providing relief. The India example is just to demonstrate that even poor countries that have been directly hit are doing more to help their neighbours than China.

My main point is this: China wants to be and be seen as a regional and global power. Sending some money is a good start. Sending military and logistical support would be even more useful in the short term. America, Australia, Singapore and others are doing that. China is noticably absent in this side of the relief effort. There's not even a token precence.

Geopolitics is a factor. It always is. Certainly Australian and American generosity and help isn't just out of humantiarian reasons but also for geopolitical ones. That's the chance that China is squandering.

I am criticising people in the midsts of this disaster...those that refuse to help how they can. They deserve criticism - if they get enough it might even spur them into action.

posted by: Simon on 01.05.05 at 02:32 PM [permalink]

It's so "moving" to see so many people worrying about despotic China "bashing". They are the same who don't forgive anything when the subjects are United States or other western democracies. Not surprising after all. Funny world.

posted by: 1972 on 01.05.05 at 07:10 PM [permalink]


i didn't get your point.

if china doesn't want to give a hand, why she donated money? the tv here in shanghai just "bombed" people with such news report of what is happening in that area, and a lot of people, including those old and poor, donated some money, if you have time, read a post in my blog (http://blog.bcchinese.net/bingfeng/archive/2005/01/04/6871.aspx)

the reason why china didn't send ships is pretty self-evident to me - either china doesn't have that ability, or, china feels that sending navy ships just irritate countries like US, japan....

another reason is probably the news reports about the coverage and level of damage of this tradegy comes late, i am pretty quick in knowing international news, but my first reaction is - wow, 1000 people dead.

your logic has no base, china just want to show to the whole world that she is a responsible member of the international community, no reason for her not sending ships if she can without making others uncomfortable.

btw, some part of your post is merely an insult to many chinese people including my wife.

posted by: bingfeng on 01.05.05 at 09:30 PM [permalink]

Simon, your point is perfectly clear. I think that only who doesn't want to understand, doesn't get it.



posted by: 1972 on 01.05.05 at 10:37 PM [permalink]


so why is that china donated money but didn't send ships?

if china sent ships, will that help china meet the criteria of passing the tsunami test?

what is the criteria for other nations? who are the criteria makers?

posted by: bingfeng on 01.05.05 at 10:59 PM [permalink]

bingfeng - it's called social norms. A ship full of chineese nationals who knew the local dialect would have been welcomed, I am certain. BTW, my wife is chinese too but not offended.

posted by: mdmhvonpa on 01.06.05 at 04:18 AM [permalink]

Enzo 1972,

RE: "It's so "moving" to see so many people worrying about despotic China "bashing". They are the same who don't forgive anything when the subjects are United States or other western democracies. Not surprising after all. Funny world."

It seems you are talking about me here. Could you maybe be more clear and point to an instance when I've failed to "forgive the United States or other western dmocracies?" All I am saying is that I think a little humility is in order. I wasn't happy when people criticized the US right away for not doing enough and it makes me unhappy when folks do the same thing to China. Let's just try to keep our eye on the ball.

posted by: Matt Waters on 01.06.05 at 10:03 AM [permalink]

as i know, the US donated very few money at first and GW didn't show up to say a few words to those victims and encourage americans to do something until very late. this is sharp contrast with some other nations including china. should i say that US FAILED THE TSUNAMI TEST?

i agree that many nations including china didn't do a perfect job, either for lack of experiences or lack of accurate information or for purely geopolitical reasons, i won't say any nation FAILED the test.

charity money is not a test, tax money is.

to be honest, i just smell a strong confrontational attitute towards china and chinese people in the articial above.

many chinese clearly know how the ethnic chinese are treated in indonesia, even though, they donated money to that country. my wife told me that "we shouldn't sit down doing nothing because people are dying", i am just very curious why somebody is trying to tell china what is the meaning of altruism.

posted by: bingfeng on 01.06.05 at 10:16 AM [permalink]

This article is loopy. India is in no way an 'aid' nation, and the author completely misses India's true motives in sending ships to Sri Lanka: entirely political reasons regarding 'face'.

Many Indians here believe that by refusing international assistance, India effectively sealed the fates of hundreds, if not thousands, of its citizens in Tamil Nadu, just so it could look more important and self-sufficent to the world than it really is.

Aid has still not reached parts of Tamil Nadu in sufficient measure, so people here are angry that India is devoting its resources to Sri Lanka when there is still much suffering here.

posted by: Prince Roy on 01.06.05 at 10:22 AM [permalink]

My point is that China's Government could be doing far more than it has to date. Slowly it seems the Government is ramping up its aid, but it has been woefully slow and could still provide more logistical support. Any potential Taiwan invasion could go on hold for a few weeks while the PLA sends some planes and ships to help.

As to my perceived "insult", you need to remember one thing: the Chinese people and the Chinese Government are not the same thing. The Chinese people have been exceedingly generous and in some part that has put pressure on the CCP to follow with more and more aid. My attack is on the Chinese Government.

Roy: you have far better knowledge of India than I. I cannot accept or deny your assertion, but it would seem exceedingly calluous for a Government to refuse aid for the sake of face and political reasons. Perhaps that has happened in this case, but I have no prima facie evidence that's the case. Until such time as I see otherwise, it would seem that India's actions are noble rather than machiavellian.

posted by: Simon on 01.06.05 at 10:54 AM [permalink]


how much is enough and how much is not enough, this is rather a matter of subjectivity. Matt has given us his index to compare china's contribution with that of the US, however, i won't be convinced by his index and believe that the US didn't contribute enough. vice versa, if the US sent ships and china didn't, does it mean china didn't contributed enough? i won't say so either.

the assertion of "some country could do far more than it has done" could be applied to any country involved into the aid.

people and government are different, but the donation here was, to a great extent, initiated by the people and at a later time coordinated by the government. in the first few days, those old guys and women just called local media asking why there is no action to help the victims, and on the web some young people critized government for slow reaction and lack of coordination.

china is not experienced in this kind of international relief action, and no doubt there are many improvement opportunities there. but to say china FAILED the test, this is obviously unfair and, to many chinese, offensive.

so next time, perhaps you should just raise your hand and ask china: "could you send a few ships please", instead of pointing to china when she was busy sending the 4th batch of aid materials and her people saved their slender money to donate to indonesia.


posted by: bingfeng on 01.06.05 at 11:39 AM [permalink]

i think many of you know a chinese saying - those who have money give money, those who have a hand give a hand (you qian chu qian, you li chu li)

to me, an old chinese man who donates 10 yuan is just as respectable as Bill Gates who donates 1 million us dollors

i believe this is the spirit of charity

posted by: bingfeng on 01.06.05 at 11:49 AM [permalink]

Failed the Tsunami test? More bollocks from Washington Know-Nothings.

China doesn't have a blue water navy.
Its ships are based in the wrong ocean - Pacific, not Indian.
China has no tradition or experience of humanitarian interventions. Live Aid was only eight years after Mao and his Cultural Revolution died.
The Chinese have to tread very carefully in Indonesia and Malaysia because of longstanding and often viruent anti Chinese prejudice.

Stand by for more Chinese "failures" brought to you by the scriptwriters of success stories like Fallujah.

posted by: Li on 01.07.05 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Matt Waters,
I wasn't talking about you.



posted by: 1972 on 01.07.05 at 08:08 PM [permalink]

Simon, I think you are in desperate need of a major reality adjustment. You criticize China's contribution, while lauding the achievements of the West. Well, how much of the money that these Western governments have promised will actually be given? For a clue, try reading this: http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/01/05/tsunami.aid.promises/index.html

And how much of that "aid" is really aid? How much of it will help and how much of it will harm? Try working your way through the links here: http://www.friendsoftheheroes.co.uk/page5/index.html#3

Bearing all this in mind, I read the other day a promise made by Wen Jiabao. He said that every last bit of the aid that China has promised will be given. The proof is in the pudding, and I'll be watching to see if he actually spoke the truth, but my guess is that China will follow through. Can the same be said of our governments?

And by the way, China was one of the first countries to respond to the tsunami victims' needs - and despite being a developing country, so far China has been one of the biggest *givers* - as opposed to *promisers*.

If you read that CNN link, you'll know that the earthquake victims of Bam know from experience just how useless those promises can be.

posted by: cat on 01.12.05 at 07:34 PM [permalink]

I agree, Cat, that it will be important to see if money actually follows the pledges made. With so much attention the likelihood is high Governments will follow through...China, Australia, America - all Governments.

It leads me to another point - China is a "developing country" that spends extraordinary amounts of moeny putting men into space for nationalist reasons alone. Let's not keep using that as an excuse.

posted by: Simon on 01.13.05 at 10:09 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?