Nepal earthquake: China says had good cooperation with India on relief efforts

BEIJING (Reuters) - China and India cooperated well on relief efforts after the earthquake in Nepal, a senior diplomat was quoted as saying on Thursday, dismissing the idea that China was trying to compete for influence with its work.

Nepal is sandwiched between India and China, who themselves have a festering border dispute. The two Asian giants have used aid and investment to court Kathmandu for years. China is also a close ally of Pakistan, India's neighbour and arch-rival.

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.

Speaking to Chinese reporters, Huang Xilian, deputy head of the Asian department at China's Foreign Ministry, said any suggestion of trying to gain influence was unfair.

"As for China and India's aid, some reports have embellished this question," Huang said, in a transcript of his comments released by the ministry, when asked if China was trying to win influence.

"In fact, on the second day of the disaster, at the same time as we sent rescue forces, we began a communication with the Indian side, and during this process we remained in close touch with India on how to help Nepal," he added.

China had good communications with India, whether on the ground or via the Chinese embassy in India, Huang said.

"China and India are Nepal's neighbours, and we have a responsibility to help them overcome their difficulties and rebuild their home," he added.

China will keep cooperating with India and work with the international community in this regard, Huang said.

Both sides, jostling for pre-eminence in the region, are aware of potential pitfalls and diplomatic dividends.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political career was built on the rebuilding of his home state of Gujarat after a 2001 earthquake there.

Modi, who visits China next week, has won praise for the smooth management of operations such as the mass evacuation in recent weeks of more than 4,700 Indians and almost 1,950 other foreigners from Yemen.

China has faced criticism in the past over its reaction to some global natural disasters.

Its slow and stingy response to the 2013 Philippines' typhoon, initially giving less help than Swedish furniture company Ikea, contrasted heavily with the United States and others, and cost it political goodwill in the region.

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