Disaster diplomacy

Staff at the Chinese Embassy have been working overtime to coordinate the emergency response in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake as the death toll rises to 80,000 people.

Speaking at a memorial service held at the Chinese Embassy, the Chinese Ambassador said she had been “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of sympathy from the British people.

Fu Ying thanked Britain for the donation of tents to house 30,000 people. She added that the ยฃ350,000 the Embassy had received in donations would be spent on tents to help shelter the 1.1 million victims still without a roof over their heads.

The Embassy has set up a squad of diplomats to procure tents, buying the entire stock from one company which, on hearing their intended use, offered a discount of 45% and offered to deliver the tents free of charge.

A Welsh company donated a further 1500-2000 tents, whose transportation to London was funded by members of the Chinese community, who have rallied to support the Embassy.

To ensure the speedy delivery of the tents, Air China exempted the transport fee. Agents also arranged free loading, custom declaration, quarantine and storage from Air Canada Cargo and Eurasia Air Cargo.

Embassy spokesperson Liu Weimin said staff were manning five emergency hotlines to cope with the flood of enquiries from concerned relatives or those wishing to give assistance.

A Sichuan Earthquake Donation Account has been opened with the Bank of China for those wishing to make donations, either by cheque or via internet or telephone banking.

A donation centre has been set up for those donating in person, all of whom receive a letter of thanks from the Embassy. Hundreds more queued to sign the Book of Condolence, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Embassy has been inundated with over 2,000 emails, as well as letters and phone calls. “The British public has made the grief of strangers their very own,” said Fu, adding that the earthquake had made the country more resolute to stage a successful Olympic Games.

She also pointed out that the “candid coverage” of the disaster proved that China’s new transparency laws were being implemented.

In contrast to the Chinese openness, Myanmar’s military rulers have restricted access to the media and aid workers to the areas affected by Cyclone Nargis, whose official death toll is now estimated at 78,000.

However Embassy can reveal that the London mission has been working quietly behind the scenes to process visas, offers of aid and money.

As soon as offers of assistance started coming in, officials from relief agencies were briefed on what was needed and, in some instances, visas were issued immediately. Prior to the ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference, the Embassy processed visas for the British delegation within 24 hours and also issued visas on arrival to the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian delegations. The Embassy has been busy collecting donations from the Burmese community, while assisting relatives in tracing down missing family members in Myanmar

For information on donating to the Sichuan Earthquake fund, visit www.chinese-embassy.org.uk

To make donations for Cyclone Nargis, contact Mr Khin Minn on 020 7499 4340

To apply for visas, contact Mr Myint Soe on 020 7499 4340

Cheques should be made out to The Embassy of Myanmar.