A friend in need: China, India turn on aid diplomacy in Nepal

Reuters

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Indian Army soldiers place an injured woman, who was wounded in Saturday's earthquake, on a stretcher after she was evacuated from Trishuli Bazar to the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, April 27, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash Indian Army soldiers place an injured woman, who was wounded in Saturday's earthquake, on a stretcher after she was evacuated from Trishuli Bazar to the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, April 27, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash

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At a 12-bed hospital deep in Nepal's Himalayan mountains, Indian Air Force helicopters bring in the casualties of a devastating earthquake that has killed more than 4,000: injured men, women and children plucked from hilltops and inaccessible valleys.
In the capital Kathmandu, Chinese rescuers in red uniforms have been searching for survivors in the rubble. Television footage on Tuesday showed one crew pulling a man from the wreckage of a hotel, carrying him gingerly on a stretcher.
Nepal's government has struggled in the wake of the country's worst earthquake in nearly a century, and its officials have been largely absent from public view. Not so India and China: both promised rescuers, sniffer dogs, tents and food within hours, winning praise from stranded Nepalis.
"We have no faith in our government, only India and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi are helping us," said villager Dhruba Kandel in Dhading. "If it were not for these helicopters, people would be dying on the mountains by the dozens."
Nepal is sandwiched between India and China and the two have used aid and investment to court Kathmandu for years.
China rushed to offer sympathy and assistance on Saturday, and has since said it will provide $3.3 million in aid - roughly the same as the European Union.
The ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily noted ordinary Chinese have held fund-raising drives for Nepal, and reported a Chinese noodle shop owner in Kathmandu has been making rice porridge and giving it to people for free.
Modi, whose own country was also hit by the earthquake, was on air within hours of the disaster, and has promised to "wipe the tears of every Nepali". Indian television has devoted hours to footage of Indian planes, trucks and buses delivering aid.
Nepal's ambassador in New Delhi welcomed India's "unique" response, that included a phone call from Modi offering assistance only an hour after the quake and shipments of Indian aid which arrived in Nepal within just six or seven hours.
"India and China are sending specialized relief personnel, and they are working very hard," Nepal's Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey said in an interview with the Indian Express newspaper on Tuesday, balancing his praise.
He said Nepal had divided areas between China and India as they brought aid, but gave no details.
Friendly neighbors
Officials brushed aside talk of a proxy aid war. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that it was willing to "pro-actively coordinate with India on earthquake aid".

Rescue team members from Nepal, Turkey and China work during the rescue operation to rescue live victims trapped inside the collapsed hotel after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal on April 27, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

Zhang Chunxiang, a former Chinese ambassador to Pakistan who was envoy during the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, said there was "no competition".
"When our friendly neighbors experience such a large earthquake, the Chinese government and people should offer support and react immediately," he told reporters in Beijing.
But both sides, jostling for pre-eminence in the region, are aware of potential pitfalls and diplomatic dividends.
Modi's political career was built on the rebuilding of his home state of Gujarat after a 2001 earthquake there, and he has won praise for the smooth management of operations like the mass evacuation in recent weeks of more than 4,700 Indians and almost 1,950 other foreigners from Yemen.
China, by contrast, has come in for criticism in the past for its reaction to natural disasters.
"The Chinese response to humanitarian disasters has been limited: in the (2004) tsunami disaster they did very little, and even in the (2005) Kashmir earthquake there was no focused Chinese response," said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"Clearly they have upped their game and they feel this is becoming an important part of their relationship with South Asia."
Now it looks like China has learnt the hard way. Its slow and stingy response to the 2013 Philippines' typhoon - giving less help than Swedish furniture company Ikea - contrasted heavily with the United States and others, and cost it political goodwill in the region.
"A friend in need is a friend indeed," said Mahesh Kumar Maskey, Nepal's ambassador to China, in comments carried by Xinhua news agency.
 
 

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