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Wen Calls for More Tsunami Aid, Cooperation

The special ASEAN tsunami summit held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Thursday began with a moment of silence in memory of the more than 150,000 people killed in the December 26 catastrophe.


At the one-day meeting, leaders from 26 tsunami-hit nations, donor countries and international organizations, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, gathered to discuss how to deal with the aftermath of the catastrophe.


Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono chaired the meeting, with special envoys from Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand giving presentations. Participants adopted a joint declaration dealing with such issues as emergency relief, reconstruction and disaster prevention before wrapping up the summit with more pledges of aid.


Annan urged parties to convert their pledges into cash quickly. "To protect the maximum number of lives, to restore dignity and hope, our assistance must be timely and well coordinated," he said.


Premier Wen called for the world community to improve its emergency relief and rebuilding operations while installing an early-warning system in countries at risk from disasters like the devastating quake and tsunami.


The Chinese government has pledged to provide an additional US$20 million for multilateral relief and reconstruction efforts, Wen said. The day after the tragedy, it had promised $2.6 million, and upped the figure to 521.6 million yuan (US$63.0 million) on December 31.


Half of the pledged donations will be paid out by the end of January.


China will also write off all of Sri Lanka's government debt and reduce the amounts owed by some of the hardest-hit countries, he told the one-day conference yesterday.


"I have come to this meeting with a heavy heart," Wen said at the start of his address.


This is the largest foreign relief operation China has ever mounted, said Wen.


"The post-disaster rebuilding and rehabilitation is an arduous task, calling for vigorous support and assistance from the international community," Wen said. "China is ready to actively contribute to these efforts."


The second shipment of aid from China is being delivered, he noted, as well as donations from individuals and institutions.


China has appealed to other countries and international organizations to work more closely in aid drives and to follow through on their pledges.


The scale of the disaster reinforced the need to establish an early-warning mechanism, Wen said. China will host a Sino-ASEAN workshop concerning this issue on January 25 and 26 in Beijing


The premier said China is ready to share data and services available from its Fengyun-2 meteorological satellite with countries in the region, to help them with weather forecasts, environment monitoring and disaster assessment.


He also proposed a 10-1 (ASEAN plus China) seminar on post-disaster disease prevention to be sponsored by the China-ASEAN Fund for Public Health.


Wen said China will support efforts to revive tourism industries devastated by the tsunami, and will encourage its citizens to travel to the countries when conditions return to normal.


At a press conference after the close of the summit, Annan said the international community is grateful to the Chinese government for its help.


"The government response has been matched by unprecedented generosity from the general public. Consider the six-year-old boy in Shenyang, China, who donated his life savings of US$22."


The European Union unveiled an aid package that brought total contributions from the EU and individual members to nearly US$2 billion.


It pledged an additional 350 million euros (US$462 million) and a 1 billion euro concessional loan through the European Investment Bank. "Asian grief is our grief," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said at a press conference in Jakarta.


As of Thursday, governments and international organizations had pledged approximately US$4 billion in financial assistance.


Premier Wen returned to China after the summit, arriving in Shenzhen on Thursday night.


(China Daily January 7, 2005)

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