Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chinese Premier Visits Tibetan Quake Survivors

China — Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spent Friday in the Tibetan high country, comforting survivors of this week’s devastating earthquake in a prominent display of concern by the country’s Han leadership for one of China’s most troubled ethnic minorities.

“No matter whether you are Tibetans or Hans, you are all in one family,” Mr. Wen said during a visit to an orphanage in Yushu Prefecture, a remote area of western China to which he had raced on Thursday after canceling a trip to Indonesia, state news media reported. President Hu Jintao also changed his plans after the quake, cutting short a trip to Brazil.

The government’s efforts will be closely watched. Although the scope of destruction does not compare with the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, which killed about 87,000 people, the disaster in Qinghai Province presents a delicate political challenge.

The government raised the official death toll of this week’s quake to 1,144, from 791 earlier in the day, with many thousands more injured and suffering in the freezing cold at 13,000 feet. Most of those affected are ethnic Tibetans, whose relations with the Chinese government have never been easy.

In 2008, those tensions flared in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, during deadly rioting that pitted local residents against ethnic Han migrants. Since then, sporadic unrest and crackdowns have occurred across Tibetan areas of the country, Qinghai included, although Jiegu has been relatively quiet.

At a news conference on Friday in Beijing, government experts seemed at pains to stress that the distribution of relief supplies had been unaffected by ethnic considerations, and that supplies had been handed out solely on the basis of need.

But there were obvious tensions in the earthquake zone. Many monks said that the army and the police had prevented them from searching for survivors in the first few days after the quake and that the emergency teams that came from other parts of the country worked with a lack of urgency. “We have been digging with our bare hands to save lives,” said Tsewang, a 21-year-old monk who, like some Tibetans, uses only one name. “We are very disappointed in them.”

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