China is willing to send rescue and medical teams to the Philippines to help it recover from Typhoon Haiyan, the Chinese foreign ministry has said.
Xinhua state news agency cited Hong Lei, foreign ministry spokesman, as saying China was prepared to send personnel. He said the Chinese Red Cross was also willing to deploy its Blue Sky Rescue Team to the relief.
The news agency did not say whether the Philippines had requested – or agreed to accept – help from China. The two countries have been locked in a bitter dispute over contested maritime territory in the South China Sea.
"China has maintained communication with the Philippines on the issue of medical assistance, and Chinese rescuers will set off for the disaster-hit areas immediately once conditions permit," Xinhua cited Mr Hong as saying.
China came under criticism last week after it offered only $100,000 in aid to the Philippines – equivalent to only 2 per cent of what South Korea pledged. But China later said it would send an additional Rmb10m ($1.6 million) in provisions.
Several retired US admirals with China experience suggested that Haiyan provided a perfect opportunity for China to become more involved in international relief efforts.
Timothy Keating, a retired admiral who oversaw US forces in Asia as head of Pacific Command, urged China to send the "Peace Ark" hospital ship to the Philippines.
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In an interview on Friday, Mark Montgomery, commander of the USS George Washington Strike Group which is helping the relief effort, declined to comment on whether China should send the ship.
The US has pledged $20 million and sent 12 navy ships to the Philippines to help deliver provisions and shelter for the more than 800,000 people who have been displaced by the most powerful storm to hit the archipelago in living memory. Japan is also sending a record 1,000 military personnel to help.
Albert del Rosario, the Philippines foreign minister, said that his government was "appreciative of China's kind offer of medical assistance".
"We are promptly referring China's offer to our senior officials in the department of health for a timely assessment of our current and future medical needs in the affected areas," said Mr del Rosario. "I would again wish to thank the Chinese government for their humanitarian gesture."
Philippines President Benigno "Noy Noy" Aquino last week downplayed estimates from local officials that the death toll could reach 10,000, saying it was more likely to be closer to 2,500. By Sunday, however, the official death toll had reached 3,681.
The US military on Sunday said the USS George Washington and its accompanying ships had delivered 335,000 litres of water and 35,000 kilogrammes of food to people on the eastern short of Samar, an island in the Philippines that was one of the worst hit areas in the country.
As international rescue teams help the Philippines, Filipino expatriates are coming together to raise money for friends and relatives in the country of 92m people.
In Hong Kong – where there are 180,000 Filipinos – many people were expected to organize charity events on Sunday to raise cash to send to aid organisations including the Philippine Red Cross.