China stands ready to help Japan, Premier Wen says
BEIJING (Reuters) - China stands willing to give earthquake-struck Japan more help, Premier Wen Jiabao said on Monday, expressing sympathy for the stricken country with which Beijing has often had icy relations.
The quake and tsunami, likely to have killed at least 10,000, could help salve some of the animosity over territory, military distrust and bitter wartime memories that have dogged ties between Asia's two biggest economies.
China has set aside acrimony to extend the hand of friendship to Japan, sending relief supplies and rescuers to help look for survivors. Wen said his government was willing to do even more.
"I want to use today's opportunity to extend our deep condolences for the loss of lives in this disaster and to express our sincere sympathy to the Japanese people," Wen said at the end of his annual news conference in Beijing.
"China is also a country that is prone to earthquake disasters and we fully empathise with how the Japanese people feel now," he added.
"When the massive Wenchuan earthquake hit the Japanese government sent a rescue team to China and also offered supplies," said Wen, referring to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people.
"The Chinese rescue team arrived in Japan yesterday and we have provided relief supplies to Japan. We will continue to provide further necessary aid to Japan in accordance with their needs."
The government has also donated 30 million yuan (2.8 million pounds) of relief supplies to Japan, the first batch of which has already left Shanghai, including quilts and tents, the Commerce Ministry said in a statement.
In 2008, Chinese President Hu Jintao himself thanked Japanese rescue teams that had searched for survivors of the devastating Sichuan earthquake, though the Japanese team actually ended up rescuing no one.
China's ties with Japan are complicated by issues from spats over Chinese limits on rare earth exports to Japanese concerns about Beijing's growing defence budget.
Relations chilled again last September after a Chinese fishing trawler collided with Japanese patrol vessels near a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are close to potentially vast oil and gas reserves.
But China moved quickly to send aid to Japan following last Friday's earthquake and tsunami.
China's 15-member rescue team headed immediately to the main quake zone upon landing in Tokyo on a chartered flight to help search for survivors, according to official news agency Xinhua.
China's state-run television news has given over hours of live coverage to the disaster, largely displacing its dry reports on a meeting of China's rubber stamp parliament.
China is Japan's biggest trade partner and a severe blow to the Japanese economy would also hurt China's exports. Trade between the two nations grew by 22.3 percent in 2010, compared to levels in 2009, reaching 26.5 trillion yen, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.
While some nationalists have voiced satisfaction online at the sight of China's neighbour stricken by catastrophe, grief and sympathy have been much more common reactions, sometimes mixed with a political message.
"I hope the Japanese persevere. We sympathise with the scale of the disaster they are facing," wrote one reader on the website of the Global Times, a normally stridently nationalist tabloid.
"Japan should learn from China how to deal with natural disasters," wrote another, in apparent reference to the number of rescuers China quickly mobilises for its own calamities.
Still, China has not always reacted with such alacrity in response to disasters in neighbours with whom it has had a testy historical relationship.
After an earthquake rocked central Taiwan in 1999, killing some 2,300 people, Taipei accused Beijing of trying to assert sovereignty over the island by obliging foreign countries to seek permission from China first before sending aid.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Sabrina Mao; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
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