Thursday, January 28, 2010

China must step up to its global responsibilities

FOR all the talk of an America in decline and a rising China, the crisis triggered by the devastating earthquake in Haiti is a reminder of the huge disparity that still exists between the ability of the United States to project power, for military or humanitarian purposes, and that of China.

The US was quick to react to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton putting off her Asian trip to deal with the crisis.

And President Barack Obama said in a speech: "To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.

"In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you."

Washington sent the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as well as three amphibious ships and a hospital ship to Haiti. In all, about 10,000 troops were sent to Haiti.

China was quick to offer aid, too, but the disparity was striking.
A 50-member Chinese rescue team arrived in Port-au-Prince two days after the earthquake struck, with three rescue dogs and 20 tonnes of equipment and humanitarian aid.

The Chinese rescue workers focused their efforts on United Nations headquarters, where Chinese peacekeepers and officials had been meeting with Hedi Annabi, the top UN official in Haiti. They recovered Annabi's body, as well as those of eight Chinese.

The US dominated the relief effort. Washington emphasised that it had "no intention of supplanting the leadership of Haiti".

However, the Haitian government clearly was in no position to respond to the crisis.

Last Friday, the American ambassador, Ken Merten, and the special representative of the UN secretary-general, Edmond Mulet, signed an agreement on coordination between the US and Haiti without any representative of the Haitian government being present.

The bodies of the eight Chinese -- four of whom were peacekeepers and the other four part of a delegation from China's Ministry of Public Security -- were flown back to Beijing, where they were honoured as heroes and mourned in an elaborate memorial ceremony attended by President Hu Jintao.

Many Chinese reports on Haiti linked the disaster with China's own earthquake in 2008, asserting that the Chinese therefore had special feelings for the Haitians.

People in Sichuan were quoted as saying that they wanted to go personally to help the Haitians.

Because the rescue workers dispatched by Beijing focused on the missing Chinese, some accused China of only being interested in rescuing its own nationals. But this charge was strongly rebutted.

In part, perhaps to counter such charges, Beijing announced on Sunday that it would send a 40-member medical care and epidemic prevention team to Haiti, along with 20 tons of medical supplies.

Nonetheless, China, now the world's second-largest economy, has come in for criticism for the relatively small amount of aid it has provided to Haiti.

John Bolton, former American ambassador to the United Nations, ridiculed the idea that China could replace the US.

"Nobody looks to China to be a source of humanitarian assistance," he said in an interview on Fox News. "They look to the United States."

Bolton also accused China of not providing more aid to Haiti because the country had diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not Beijing.

He challenged Beijing to at least match the amount of donations offered by Taiwan.

As of late last week, Taiwan had sent US$5 million (RM20 million) in aid while China had pledged US$4.4 million. But additional aid from both sides was expected.

China has in recent years succeeded in making dramatic inroads in Central and South America.

It is clearly interested in seeing to it that its image does not suffer as a result of the earthquake, even as that of the US improves.

This Chinese concern was made clear in an article published in the online edition of the People's Daily, which speculated that American rescue efforts would help Washington strengthen its position in its "backyard" and added: "The United States will also take this opportunity to expand its influence on countries to its south."

China has turned into a key competitor of the US in many realms but, when it comes to providing humanitarian aid, it is not in the same league as Washington -- at least not yet.

As China continues to rise, it must develop a policy for disaster relief around the world and make it clear that the world can look to Beijing and not just to Washington for help.Frank Ching for the New Straits Times

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