"What Beijing does next will be an important sign of how sensible, capable and magnanimous a power Xi Jinping's China is going to be when it comes to regional diplomacy," explained Medcalf, who has studied the geopolitical ramifications of disaster relief and how the projection of so-called 'soft-power' has changed.
What form any Chinese support may take, the conditionality attached to any aid and whether Manila consents are just a few of the complex questions that diplomats must tackle before help can be shipped out, he said.
China does have the potential to be a highly important "future donor and actor in the humanitarian aid field," Mathias Eick, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) Regional Information Officer for East and Southeast Asia, Pacific Region told CNBC.
(Watch now: Philippines central bank: Inflation may rise)
The English-language edition of the Global Times, a paper run by state-run People's Daily, called for China to set aside lingering political differences with the Philippines and assist the disaster-stricken neighboring country like a "responsible power".
"China shouldn't be absent in the international relief efforts," the newspaper said in a front page op-ed published on its website on Tuesday entitled 'Islands spat shouldn't block typhoon aid'.
"Aid to the typhoon victims…is totally different from foreign aid in the past made out of geopolitical concerns," it continued. "Overseas Chinese in the Philippines played an active part to mobilize relief efforts when the mainland was in disaster. It's legitimate that we provide assistance when they suffer."
In the meantime, it is the search and rescue teams of the U.S. military who are the 'first responders', strengthening Washington's pivot towards Asia.
"At a time when American power and purpose in Asia are being questioned, it will also be noticed as a reminder that the forward-deployed American military is still the first and fastest responder to contingencies of any kind," said the Lowy Institute's Medcalf.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, currently in Hong Kong, is scheduled to sail to the Philippines with a support group of six additional ships to boost the relief effort on orders from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
(Read more: How to help Typhoon Haiyan survivors)
The group is expected to reach the Philippines "in 2 to 3 days depending on sea states and speed," CDR Steven Curry, a Hawaii-based spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet told CNBC.
— By CNBC's Sri Jegarajah. Follow him on Twitter: