Disaster relief has been a channel for trust-building and reassurance between Southeast Asia and China since the 1990s. The signing of the ASEAN-China Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Disaster Management in 2014 seemingly heralded greater engagement between the two sides in this area. However, this research finds that China is yet to become a key player in disaster management in Southeast Asia, despite strengthened interactions and increased funding support. The challenges of the China-Southeast Asia disaster cooperation include the low priority of aid work in China’s diplomacy, new trends in disaster relief in Southeast Asia which include the changes induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sensitive nature of military cooperation. To move forward, it is important that offers of assistance match the need of the affected communities. For this to happen, there must be increased communication at multiple levels between China and Southeast Asia.