Chinese government responds quickly

Premier visits disaster zone and 50,000 troops deployed to help rescue effort.

    Wen called on "officials at all levels to be at the frontline of fighting the earthquake" [AFP]

    The toll from the 7.9 tremor that struck the country's southwest on Monday afternoon has risen to around 10,000 and is the country's deadliest quake since 1976.


    Troops dispatched


    About 50,000 troops have been dispatched to the disaster area to assist in rescue work.


    In depth

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    Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan, on the ground in Sichuan province, said there was a massive military presence there and rescue workers could be seen everywhere.


    She said the authorities had managed as well as anyone could.


    However, little information was coming out of the more rural areas and it is not known how those communities have been affected.


    China's rapid response comes amid international criticism of Myanmar's handling of the fallout from Cyclone Nargis, with Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, criticising Myanmar's ruling generals for their "unacceptably slow response" on Monday. 


    China has itself been criticised in the past for withholding information about national disasters, such as the outbreak of the Sars epidemic in 2003.

    The country's health minister and Beijing's mayor were sacked after widespread condemnation that local authorities had not been frank in chronicling the spread of the highly infectious disease.

    And in March, China's crackdown and foreign media blackout on Tibet after anti-government riots in the capital of Lhasa led to sharp international criticism of Beijing's human rights record and its rule over Tibet.

    Wenchuan, the county where the epicentre of the quake is located, sits near the provincial border with Tibet.


    No politics


    Anbin Shi, a professor of media and cultural studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told Al Jazeera that China's government was more responsive and open to the quake than to the recent riots in Tibet because there were no political overtones to the crisis.


    He said China's state-run media reported on the quake 10 minutes after it occurred and the government held a press conference within an hour.


    Guidelines issued in the lead up to the August Olympic Games demanding that local authorities provide accurate information about disasters, have helped, Shi said.


    But he added that information found on the internet also put pressure on the government to respond.


    "Following the increasing trend of Chinese netizens playing the role of journalists, the website tudou [potato] was showing pictures of the earthquake straight after it occurred," he said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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