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China deploys massive manpower and equipment to deal with quake; Olympic torch relay altered

May 16, 2008

The Associated Press
May 14, 2008

BEIJING -- Within 24 hours of China's deadly quake, some 20,000
troops converged on the disaster area to help dig out the dead and
injured, and military planes and trucks ferried in another 30,000
reinforcements.

The rapid mobilization to stricken Sichuan province reflected the
priority that China's leadership places on delivering efficient
disaster relief while showing the world it stands ready for anything
that may come during the Olympics in August.

Following Monday's 7.9-magnitude earthquake, Beijing's Olympics
organizers will scale down Wednesday's torch relay in the
southeastern city of Ruijin and open with a moment of silence in a
symbolic gesture to the thousands who died. This came in the face of
mounting pressure on Chinese-language Web sites and blogs, which
overwhelmingly favored some kind of moratorium ? either now or next
month when the torch enters Sichuan province.

Gu Linsheng, a researcher with Tsinghua University's Emergency
Management Research Center, said the world's sympathy for China's
latest crisis may help offset the negative publicity that has beset
Beijing following deadly riots in Tibet earlier this year and
scandals over tainted food, drugs and toys last year.

"After China was criticized for handling the Tibet crisis, the
government hopes the response to the earthquake will leave the rest
of the world a positive impression of the Chinese government ? that
it is truly for its people," Gu said.

When the disaster struck, Beijing's leaders were quick to signal a
message of concern and action, as President Hu Jintao called for an
"all-out" effort to aid survivors. Premier Wen Jiabao flew to Sichuan
province to oversee relief efforts.

Rescue workers mounted a huge search effort with cranes and manpower
to look for survivors under blocks of concrete and steel. More than
50 people were pulled out alive, but the vast majority recovered were dead.

Even the air force was called in, with a plan to parachute troops to
isolated disaster areas. It was later canceled because of heavy rain.

State media, often hesitant to report negative news, has been
especially aggressive in covering the quake's aftermath, running
pictures of bloody victims and grieving relatives. China Central
Television provided virtually 24-hour coverage, dispatching reporters
across a wide swath of the affected region.

Disasters always pose a test for the communist government, whose
mandate rests heavily on maintaining order, delivering economic
growth, and providing relief in emergencies.

If China's leaders are able to successfully show that they can
overcome this latest crisis, it will allow them bragging rights with
the Olympics around the corner, said Adam Segal, a China expert at
the Council on Foreign Relations.

"They will use this as a kind of symbol, a demonstration that they
can mobilize and respond to tragedies and show a government that is
competent and in control," he said.

China hasn't always responded well to crises. Tens of millions of
people starved in the famine created by the disastrous Great Leap
Forward of the 1950s. The 1976 quake in the city of Tangshan was the
most devastating in modern history, killing at least 240,000 ?
although some other reports say as many as 655,000 perished.

As economic growth raised expectations for better government, the
leadership has poured resources into disaster relief. Flood controls
were put in place following the 1998 floods, when the rivers burst
their banks, killing about 4,000.

China's ability to mobilize manpower and resources for relief efforts
is due in part to its long history with natural disasters, from
typhoons to annual floods that displace tens of thousands of people.
Pressure for a rapid response was particularly intense this year,
with the government already grappling with fallout from a string of
crises, both natural and manmade.

Gu said Beijing's initial response to the quake was surprisingly quick.

"What strikes me the most is that the response is really, really
fast," he said. "Responding to this disaster is particularly
difficult, because it happened in a mountainous area with high
population density."

Gu said he believes China's centralized government proved an
advantage in such times because it can quickly summon manpower and resources.

"It's a sad thing, but fortunately it did not happen during the
games," he said. "Should any natural disaster strike during the
games, we would know how to cope."

Disaster experts say China's quick actions are even more impressive
when compared with the lackluster response of its neighbor Myanmar to
a deadly May 3 cyclone. The death toll following Cyclone Nargis is
more than 30,000, with numbers expected to rise because of the
government's unusually slow, and even counterproductive, actions.

Dr. Maurice Ramirez, a founding chair of the American Board of
Disaster Medicine, said the two disasters provide clear contrasts in
what should and should not be done.

"Speed is absolutely critical in a situation like this. China has
done the very opposite of Myanmar. It has dumped every asset into the
area. Their initial response is very good," Ramirez said.

Unlike Myanmar, China also immediately expressed willingness to
accept foreign offers for aid from the United States, Germany, Japan,
Russia, Taiwan, and South Korea.

"In Myanmar, they chose to not only refuse to reach out but they
shunned offers of assistance and they have slowed the influx of aid
that did come," said Ramirez.

Although China's communist regime is often criticized, it bears
little resemblance to the xenophobic and paranoid generals who wield
total control in Myanmar. Despite the massive death toll, the junta
forged ahead with a constitutional referendum.
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