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Hu Flies to Quake Area as China Steps Up Propaganda Efforts

Hu Juntao addresses earthquake rescuers
Hu Jintao, China's president, speaks to rescuers during a visit to the earthquake-hit Qinghai province in the ethnic Tibetan region on April 18, 2010. Photographer: Liu Lin/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese President Hu Jintao flew to earthquake-hit Qinghai province after cutting short a visit to South America and amid efforts by the ruling Communist Party to “guide public opinion” on relief efforts.

Hu flew to the stricken Yushu area in the ethnic Tibetan region today to oversee relief efforts and visit victims of the April 14 6.9-magnitude quake, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, 1,484 people had been killed, 312 were missing, 12,088 were injured, with 1,394 seriously hurt, Zou Ming, director general for disaster relief at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told reporters today in Beijing.

Hu’s trip follows an April 15 visit by Premier Wen Jiabao, who delayed an overseas trip to travel to the earthquake site. China’s ruling nine-man Politburo Standing Committee met late yesterday in Beijing to map out strategy for relief efforts, and the group’s propaganda chief, Li Changchun, called the quake’s aftermath an opportunity for the Communist Party to burnish its reputation.

“We should vigorously publicize the work of the People’s Liberation Army, the armed police, the police officers, firemen and medical personnel to save lives and make outstanding contributions,” Li told China’s top media executives in Beijing yesterday evening, according to a Xinhua report.

Li also said the media should publicize decisions made on the earthquake by the Communist Party and central government, Xinhua reported.

Shelter & Supplies

Thousands of soldiers and rescue workers with sniffer dogs have poured into the quake-hit area, bringing tents, blankets, medical supplies and warm clothes for victims.

Zou told reporters today the government had so far shipped 45,550 tents to the affected area.

“We are especially paying attention to the needs of minority groups,” Zou said.

Many rescue workers have come down with altitude sickness in Yushu, which is on the Tibetan Plateau about 4000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level, Miao Chonggang, deputy director of the China Earthquake Administration, said at an April 15 news briefing in Beijing.

Li’s statements came as Tibetan monks helping relief efforts in the area have complained that rescuers seem more interested in publicizing their work than digging out victims from the rubble, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Ethic Tibetans and Uighurs, in neighboring Xinjiang province, have complained for years of discrimination by the majority Han Chinese and haven’t fully benefited from the country’s economic growth. Deadly clashes broke out in both regions in the past few years, undermining the central government’s main stated aim of ensuring social stability.

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