The official response was matched by an outpouring of millions of dollars more in donations from ordinary Chinese struck by the scale of the tragedy that hit so many of their Asian neighbors.
The last time the world saw a natural disaster on this scale was in China itself – the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that left upwards of 250,000 dead. Then China refused all offers of international assistance, shutting off the disaster area from the outside world for several years.
Officially the Chinese government's position was that it was merely trying to respond appropriately to a massive natural disaster, but Beijing's response this time around reflected how much China's place in the world has changed.
Many observers noted that tsunami relief was a useful vehicle for the rising power to project its softer side, present itself as a good global citizen and build trust in a region still suspicious of its intent.
Other commentators were more critical. At least one US-based observer, noting that despite having a massive military experienced in disaster relief, and a large fleet of amphibious naval landing craft capable of transporting much-needed supplies to the devastated region, China did not deploy them in the rescue effort.
For the survivors in a disaster of this scale though, few will care where the aid comes from.
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