Chinese soldiers aiding rescue efforts plant their nation's flag on top of what's left of a school in Sichuan Province, China.
Chinese soldiers aiding rescue efforts plant their nation's flag on top of what's left of a school in Sichuan Province, China. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: Rescuers reached the epicenter of China's earthquake in remote Sichuan Province, to find flattened mountain villages with thousands of victims. Help has begun to arrive by helicopter and by foot in some of the hardest-to-reach areas. The death toll, already at 15,000, is likely to rise.

Offers of aid and supplies have poured in from around the world. But John Dimsdale reports China's government seems intent on showing it can handle the catastrophe on its own.

JOHN DIMSDALE: China has turned down Japanese, South Korean and Australian offers of rescue crews and sniffer dogs, although the civil affairs ministry in Beijing says donations of cash and supplies are welcome. Not that they're needed.

DONALD STRASZHEIM: China is probably better fiscally positioned than perhaps any other country in the world.

Donald Straszheim of Roth Capital Partners says they have a booming economy and $1.7 trillion in foreign reserves. But he says China's rulers are happy their trading partners are offering foreign aid.

STRASZHEIM: Rather than appearing as a sign of weakness, I think they regard it indeed as a sign of maturity -- a sign they are a full-fledged member of the global economic and financial community.

China knows it is under international scrutiny with the summer Olympics just weeks away and with memories of the crackdown in Tibet still fresh. By some reports, China is spending $120 million to respond to the earthquake. Michael Yahuda, a China scholar with the London School of Economics, says there's public relations opportunity in this natural disaster.

MICHAEL YAHUDA: They feel this will in some ways improve their image after the very bad press they had. It will also improve the image of the West within China because of the sympathetic way in which the West has responded.

Which may explain why China is allowing more news coverage of relief efforts than they have with past disasters.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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