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China's other face

Premier Wen's compassion after the quake may represent a new type of leadership.

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Is he the face of a new China? Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, a bespectacled former geologist, was quick to show on-the-scene compassion following the May 12 giant earthquake in Sichuan, even shouting to one trapped student: "This is Grandpa Wen Jiabao, hang on child, we will rescue you!"

His hands-on control of the rescue effort in the earthquake area – and openness to foreign recovery experts – stands in contrast to the pitiless response of Burma's junta to that country's May 2 cyclone.

Both disasters left tens of thousands dead, but Burma's secluded leader, Gen. Than Shwe, hasn't even taken a call from the UN secretary-general, let alone allow foreign aid agencies to work directly with millions of survivors and stave off a possible post-cyclone tragedy.

Even for China's Communist Party, Mr. Wen's empathic reaction to the quake is unusual. At first, party officials instinctively imposed media controls and blocked foreign reporters from reaching Sichuan. But as the scale of the 7.9 magnitude temblor became known – and perhaps because it was not man-made – even state-run media broke the rules of presenting only "positive" stories.

Wen's own instincts may have played a role in the party's turnaround in being open, compassionate, and effective in its response.


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