The overall death toll has now reached almost 221,000 following the quake-spawned killer waves that occurred off Sumatra last month. Indonesia and Sri Lanka were the worst-hit nations.
ASEAN, the EU and the UN have all held international conferences to discuss and coordinate post-disaster relief efforts. The relief aid to tsunami-devastated countries provided by the international community has gone from a phase of search and rescue operations to a phase of post-disaster reconstruction.
On the surface, major powers offered their rescue operations out of humanitarian concerns. But they also hoped to gain substantial political, diplomatic or military benefits in the process. This is true of the US and Japan. It is also true of China. Worried about being criticized for being stingy with aid contributions, donor countries, after comparison with each another, greatly increased their financial commitment. Obviously these arrangements are all based on strategic considerations.
US President George W. Bush hopes that the US relief effort will help establish a cooperative relation with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and will also pacify Indonesia's discontent over the US war against Iraq and reduce the threat of terrorism. Last year the Bush administration granted Indonesia a five-year financial aid package worth US$470 million. Now, as a result of the tsunami devastation, the US is in a stronger position to assist a South Asian economic recovery.
Before the tsunami, the US had envisioned cooperation on maritime security in the Malacca Strait, an idea resisted by both Malaysia and Indonesia. However, the US can now make use of its influence on Indonesia to increase its surveillance of the strait.
Japan's strategic goal has been to seek diplomatic support and demonstrate that its Self-Defense Force can play a stabilizing role in Asia. Australia's aid to Indonesia is in part motivated by the desire to ameliorate relations soured by the issue of East Timorese independence. The US-led "core group" following the tsunami has excluded China.
During the recent tsunami aid summit in Jakarta, however, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) once again expressed his country's neighborly attitude, announcing that China's enterprises will participate in the reconstruction and that the Chinese government will write off Sri Lanka's debts of US$4.3 million, hold international symposiums to discuss tsunami alert systems, assist the devastated countries in establishing the network to predict and monitor earthquakes and tsunamis.
Although restricted politically, Taiwan still clearly showed the world that it is able to pitch in and help.
Taiwan has pledged to donate US$50 million in disaster relief, US$20 million of which will be donated in the form of food supplies. Another US$15 million will be donated in medical assistance and the remaining US$15 million will go to the reconstruction of communities and harbors.
Bearing the brunt of the tsunami destruction are Indonesia and Thailand, with both of which Taiwan has close relations. With a new government just having taken power in Indonesia and a national election about to take place in Thailand, Taiwan has to count on delicate diplomacy to improve its relationships there.
On the other hand, the US, Japan, India and Australia have actively engaged in disaster relief aid, altering the structure of multilateral relations in South Asia. More importantly, China's increased power and influence in South Asia has also been counterbalanced in the process.